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B^ 70.^>"7C5J 

Horimrb College Xfbtatp 





i .•. OF TMi 


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AUTHOR OF 'character/ ' SELF-HELP,' ETC. 


"Bid Huboun open. Public Ways extend; 
Bid Temples, wonhier of God, ascend ; 
Bid the broad Arch the dang*roos flood contain. 
The Mole projected break the roering main. 
Bick to his bounds their subject sea command. 
And roll obedient riven through the land. 
These honours. Peace to happy Britain brings ; 
These are imperial works, and worthy kings." 













Since the appearance of this book in its original 
form, some seventeen years since, the construction 
of Railways has continued to make extraordinary 
progress. Although Great Britain, first in the field, 
had then, after about twenty-five years* work, 
expended nearly 300 millions sterling in the con- 
struction of 8300 miles of railway, it has, during 
the last seventeen years, expended about 288 
millions more in constructing 7780 additional miles. 

But the construction of railways has proceeded 
with equal rapidity on the Continent. France, 
Germany, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, 
Holland, have largely added to their railway mileage. 
Austria is actively engaged in carrying new lines 
across the plains of Hungary, which Turkey is pre- 
paring to meet by lines carried up the valley of 
the Lower Danube. Russia is also occupied with 
extensive schemes for connecting Petersburg and 
Moscow with her ports in the Black Sea on the 
one hand, and with the frontier towns of her 
Asiatic empire on the other. 

Italy is employing her new-born liberty in vigor- 
ously extending railways throughout her dominions. 
A direct line of communication has already been 
v. a 2 


opened between France and Italy, through the 
Mont Cenis Tunnel; while another has been 
opened between Germany and Italy through the 
Brenner Pass, — so that the entire journey may 
now be made by two different railway routes 
(excepting only the short sea-passage across the 
English Channel) from London to Brindisi, situated 
in the south-eastern extremity of the Italian 

During the last sixteen years, nearly the whole 
of the Indian railways have been made. When 
Edmund Burke, in 1783, arraigned the British 
Government for their neglect of India in his speech 
on Mr. Fox's Bill, he said : " England has built no 
bridges, made no high roads, cut no navigations, dug 

out no reservoirs Were we to be driven out 

of India this day, nothing would remain to tell that 
it had been possessed, during the inglorious period 
of our dominion, by anything better than the 
ourang-outang or the tiger." 

But that reproach no longer exists. Some of 
the greatest bridges erected in modern times — ^such 
as those over the Sone near Patna, and over the 
Jumna at Allahabad — have been erected in connec- 
tion with the Indian railways. More than 5000 
miles are now at work, and they have been con- 
structed at an expenditure of about 88,000,000/. 
of British capital, guaranteed by the British Govern- 
ment. The Indian railways connect the capitals of 
the three Presidencies — uniting Bombay with Madras 
on the south, and with Calcutta on the north-east 
— while a great main line, 2200 miles in extent, 
passing through the north-western provinces, and 


connecting Calcutta with Lucknow, Delhi, Lahore, 
Moultan, and Kurrachee, unites the mouths of the 
Hooghly in the Bay of Bengal with those of the 
Indus in the Arabian Sea. 

When the first edition of this work appeared, 
in the beginning of 1857, ^hc Canadian system of 
railways was but in its infancy. The Grand 
Trunk was only begun, and the Victoria Bridge — 
the greatest of all railway structures — was not half 
erected. The Colony of Canada has now more 
than 3000 miles in active operation along the great 
valley of the St. Lawrence, connecting Riviere du 
Loup at the mouth of that river, and the harbour 
of Portland in the State of Maine, via Montreal and 
Toronto, with Sarnia on Lake Huron, and with 
Windsor, opposite Detroit in the State of Michigan. 
During the same time the Australian Colonies 
have been actively engaged in providing them- 
selves with railways, many of which are at work, 
and others are in course of formation. The 
Cape of Good Hope has several lines open, and 
others making. France has constructed about 400 
miles in Algeria; while the Pasha of Egypt is 
the proprietor of 360 miles in operation across the 
Egyptian desert The Japanese are also making 

But in no country has railway construction been 
prosecuted with greater vigour than in the United 
States. There the railway furnishes not only 
the means of inter-communication between already 
established settlements, as in the Old World ; but 
it is regarded as the pioneer of colonization, and 
as instrumental in opening up new and fertile 


territories of vast extent in the west, — the food- 
grounds of future nations. Hence railway con- 
struction in that country was scarcely interrupted 
even by the great Civil War, — at the commence- 
ment of which Mr. Seward publicly expressed the 
opinion that "physical bonds — such as highways, 
railroads, rivers, and canals — are vastly more power- 
ful for holding civil communities together than any 
mere covenants, though written on parchment or 
engraved on iron." 

The people of the United States were the first 
to follow the example of England, after the practica- 
bility of steam locomotion had been proved on the 
Stockton and Darlington, and Liverpool and Man- 
chester Railways. The first sod of the Baltimore 
and Ohio Railway was cut on the 4th of July, 1828, 
and the line was completed and opened for traffic 
in the following year, when it was worked partly 
by horse-power, and partly by a locomotive built 
at Baltimore, which is still preserved in the 
Company's workshops. In 1830 the Hudson and 
Mohawk Railway was begun, while other lines 
were under construction in Pennsylvania, Massa- 
chusetts, and New Jersey; and in the course of 
ten years, 1843 miles were finished and in operation. 
In ten more years, 8827 miles were at work; at 
the end of 1864, 35,000 miles; and at the 31st of 
December, 1873, not less than 70,651 miles were in 
operation, of which 3916 had been made during 
that year. One of the most extensive trunk-lines 
is the Great Pacific Railroad, connecting the lines 
in the valleys of the Mississippi and the Missouri 
with the city of San Francisco on the shores of the 


Pacific, by means of which it is possible to make 
the journey from England to Hong Kong, via New 
York, in little more than a month. 

The results of the working of railways have been 
in many respects different from those anticipated by 
their projectors. One of the most unexpected has 
been the growth of an immense passenger-traffic. 
The Stockton and Darlington line was projected 
as a coal line only, and the Liverpool and Man- 
chester as a merchandise line. Passengers were 
not taken into account as a source of revenue, for 
at the time of their projection it was not believed 
that people would trust themselves to be drawn 
upon a railway by an ** explosive machine," as the 
locomotive was described to be. Indeed, a writer 
of eminence declared that he would as soon think 
of being fired off on a ricochet rocket, as travel on 
a railway at twice the speed of the old stage-coaches. 
So great was the alarm which existed as to the 
locomotive, that the Liverpool and Manchester 
Committee pledged themselves in their second 
prospectus, issued in 1825, " not to require any 
clause empowering its use " ; and as late as 1829, the 
Newcastle and Carlisle Act was conceded on the 
express condition that the line should not be worked 
by locomotives, but by horses only. 

Nevertheless, the Liverpool and Manchester 
Company obtained powers to make and work their . 
railway without any such restriction ; and when the 
line was made and opened, a locomotive passenger 
train was advertised to be run upon it, by way 
of experiment. Greatly to the surprise of the 


directors, more passengers presented themselves 
as travellers by the train than could conveniently be 

The first arrangements as to passenger-traffic 
were of a very primitive character, being mainly 
copied from the old stage-coach system. The 
passengers were "booked" at the railway office, 
and their names were entered in a way-bill which 
was given to the guard when the train started. 
Though the usual stage-coach bugleman could not 
conveniently accompany the passengers, the trains 
were at first played out of the terminal stations by 
a lively tune performed by a trumpeter at the end of 
the platform ; and this continued to be done at the 
Manchester Station until a comparatively recent date. 

But the number of passengers carried by the 
Liverpool and Manchester line was so unexpectedly 
great, that it was very soon found necessary to re- 
model the entire system. Tickets were introduced, 
by which a great saving of time was effected. More 
roomy and commodious carriages were provided, 
the original first-class compartments being seated 
for four passengers only. Everything was found to 
have been in the first instance made too light and 
too slight. The prize ' Rocket,' which weighed only 
4i tons when loaded with its coke and water, was 
found quite unsuited for drawing the increasingly 
heavy loads of passengers. There was also this 
essential difference between the old stage-coach and 
the new railway train, that, whereas the former was 
"full" with six inside wd ten outside, the latter 
must be able to accommodate whatever number of 
passengers came to be carried. Hence heavier and 


more powerful engines and larger and more sub- 
stantial carriages were from time to time added to 
the carrying stock of the railway. 

The speed of the trains was also increased. The 
first locomotives used in hauling coal-trains ran at 
from four to six miles an hour. On the Stockton 
and Darlington line the speed was increased to 
about ten miles an hour ; and on the Liverpool and 
Manchester line the first passenger trains were run 
at the average speed of seventeen miles an hour, 
which at that time was considered very fast. But 
this was not enough. When the London and 
Birmingham line was opened, the mail-trains were 
run at twenty-three miles an hour; and gradually 
the speed went up, until now the fast trains are run 
at from fifty to sixty miles an hour, — the pistons in 
the cylinders, at sixty miles, travelling at the incon- 
ceivable rapidity of 800 feet per minute ! 

To bear the load of heavy engines run at high 
speeds, a much stronger and heavier road was 
found necessary; and shortly after the opening of 
the Liverpool and Manchester line, it was entirely 
relaid with stronger materials. Now that express 
passenger-engines are from thirty to thirty-five tons 
each, the weight of the rails has been increased from 
35 lbs. to 75 lbs. or S6 lbs. to the yard. Stone blocks 
have given place to wooden sleepers; rails with 
loose ends resting on the chairs, to rails with their 
ends firmly " fished " together ; and in many places, 
where the traffic is unusually heavy, iron rails have 
been replaced by those of steel. 

And now see the enormous magnitude to which 
railway passenger-traffic has grown. In the year 


1873, 401,465,086 passengers were carried by day 
tickets in Great Britain alone. But this was not all. 
For in that year 257,470 periodical tickets were 
issued by the different railways ; and assuming half 
of them to be annual, one-fourth half yearly, and the 
remainder quarterly tickets, and that their holders 
made only five journeys each way weekly, this 
would give an additional number of 47,024,000 
journeys, or a total of 448,489,086 passengers carried 
in Great Britain in one year. 

It is difficult to grasp the idea of the enormous 
number of persons represented by these figures. 
The mind is merely bewildered by them, and can 
form no adequate notion of their magnitude. To 
reckon them singly would occupy twenty-five years, 
counting at the rate of one a second for twelve hours 
every day. Or take another illustration. Suppos- 
ing every man, woman, and child in Great Britain 
to make ten journeys by rail yearly, the number 
would greatly fall short of the passengers carried in 


Mr. Porter, in his ' Progress of the Nation,' 
estimated that thirty millions of passengers, or 
about eighty-two thousand a day, travelled by 
coaches in Great Britain in 1834, an average dis- 
tance of twelve miles each, at an average cost of 
55. a passenger, or at the rate of 5^. a mile ; whereas 
above 448 millions are now carried by railway an 
average distance of Si miles each, at an average cost 
of 15. lid. per passenger, or about three halfpence 
per mile, in considerably less than one-fourth of the 

But besides the above number of passengers. 


over one hundred and sixty-two million tons of 
minerals and merchandise were carried by railway 
in the United Kingdom in 1873, besides mails, cattle, 
parcels, and other traffic. The distance run by pas- 
senger and goods trains in the year was 162,561,304 
miles ; to accomplish which it is estimated that four 
miles of railway must have been covered by running 
trains during every second all the year round. 

To perform this service, there were, in 1873, 
11,255 locomotives at work in the United Kingdom, 
consuming about four million tons of coal and coke, 
and flashing into the air every minute some forty 
tons of water in the form of steam in a high state 
of elasticity. There were also 24,644 passenger-car- 
riages, 9128 vans and breaks attached to passenger- 
trains, and 329,163 trucks, waggons and other 
vehicles appropriated to merchandise. Buckled 
together, buffer to buffer, the locomotives and 
tenders would extend from London to Peterborough ; 
while the carrying vehicles, joined together, would 
form two trains occupying a double line of railway 
extending from London to beyond Inverness. 

A notable feature in the growth of railway traffic 
of late years has been the increase in the number 
of third-class passengers, compared with first and 
second class. Sixteen years since, the third-class 
passengers constituted only about one-third ; ten 
years later, they were about one-half; whereas now 
they form more than three-fourths of the whole 
number carried. In 1873 there were about 23 million 
first-class passengers, 62 million second-class, and 
not less than 306 million third-class. Thus George 
Stephenson's prediction, "that the time would come 


when it would be cheaper for a working man to 
make a journey by railway than to walk on foot," 
is already verified. 

The degree of safety with which this great traffic 
has been conducted is not the least remarkable of 
its features. Of course, so long as railways are 
worked by men they will be liable to the imperfec- 
tions belonging to all things human. Though their 
machinery may be perfect and their organisation 
as complete as skill and forethought can make it, 
workmen will at times be forgetful and listless ; 
and a moment's carelessness may lead to the most 
disastrous results. Yet, taking all circumstances 
into account, the wonder is, that travelling by 
railway at high speed should have been rendered 
comparatively so safe. 

To be struck by lightning is one of the rarest of 
all causes of death ; yet more persons are killed by 
lightning in Great Britain than are killed on railways 
from causes beyond their own control. Most 
persons would consider the probability of their 
dying by hanging to be extremely remote; yet, 
according to the Registrar-Generars returns, it is 
considerably greater than that of being killed by 
railway accident. 

The remarkable safety with which railway traffic 
is on the whole conducted, is due to constant watch- 
fulness and highly-applied skill. The men who 
work the railways are for the most part the picked 
men of the country, and every railway station may 
be regarded as a practical school of industry, attention, 
and punctuality. 

Few are aware of the complicated means and 


agencies that are in constant operation on railways 
day and night, to ensure the safety of the passengers 
to their journey's end. The road is under a system 
of continuous inspection. The railway is watched 
by foremen, with " gangs ** of men under them, in 
lengths varying from twelve to five miles, according 
to circumstances. Their continuous duty is to see 
that the rails and chairs are sound, their fastenings 
complete, and the line clear of all obstructions. 

Then, at all the junctions, sidings, and crossings, 
pointsmen are stationed, with definite instructions 
as to the duties to be performed by them. At these 
places, signals are provided, worked from the station 
platforms, or from special signal boxes, for the 
purpose of protecting the stopping or passing trains. 
When the first railways were opened, the signals 
were of a very simple kind. The station men gave 
them with their arms stretched out in different 
positions ; then flags of different colours were used ; 
next fixed signals, with arms or discs of rectangular 
or triangular shape. These were followed by a 
complete system of semaphore signals, near and 
distant, protecting all junctions, sidings, and 

When Government inspectors were first ap- 
pointed by the Board of Trade to examine and 
report upon the working of railways, they were 
alarmed by the number of trains following each 
other at some stations, in what then seemed to be 
a very rapid succession. A passage from a Report 
written in 1840 by Sir Frederick Smith, as to the 
traffic at "Taylor's Junction," on the York and 
North Midland Railway, contrasts curiously with 


the railway life and activity of the present day : — 
" Here," wrote the alarmed Inspector, " the passenger 
trains from York as well as Leeds and Selby, meet 
four times a day. No less than 23 passenger-trains 
stop at or pass this station in the 24 hours — an 
amount of traffic requiring not only the most perfect 
arrangements on the part of the management, but 
the utmost vigilance and energy in the servants of 
the Company employed at this place." 

Contrast this with the state of things now. On 
the Metropolitan Line, 6Sj trains pass a given point 
in one direction or the other during the eighteen 
hours of the working day, or an average of 36 trains 
an hour. At the Cannon Street Station of the 
South-Eastern Railway, 527 trains pass in and out 
daily, many of them crossing each other's tracks 
under the protection of the station-signals. Forty- 
five trains run in and out between 9 and 10 a.m., and 
an equal number between 4 and 5 p.m. Again, at 
the Clapham Junction, near London, about 700 trains 
pass or stop daily ; and though to the casual observer 
the succession of trains coming and going, running 
and stopping, coupling and shunting, appears a 
scene of inextricable confusion and danger, the 
whole is clearly intelligible to the signalmen in their 
boxes, who work the trains in and out with extra- 
ordinary precision and regularity. 

The inside of a signal-box reminds one of a 
pianoforte on a large scale, the lever-handles corre- 
sponding with the keys of the instrument ; and, to 
an uninstructed person, to work the one would be 
as difficult as to play a tune on the other. The 
signal-box outside Cannon Street Station contains 


67 lever-handles, by means of which the signalmen 
are enabled at the same moment to communicate 
with the drivers of all the engines on the line within 
an area of 800 yards. They direct by signs, which 
are quite as intelligible as words, the drivers of the 
trains starting from inside the station, as well as 
those of the trains arriving from outside. By pulling 
a lever-handle, a distant signal, perhaps out of sight, 
is set some hundred yards off, which the approaching 
driver — reading it quickly as he comes along — at 
once interprets, and stops or advances as the signal 
may direct. 

The precision and accuracy of the signal- 
machinery employed at important stations and 
junctions have of late years been much improved by 
an ingenious contrivance, by means of which the 
setting of the signal prepares the road for the coming 
train. When the signal is set at "Danger," the 
points are at the same time worked, and the road 
is " locked " against it ; and when at " Safety,*' the 
road is open, — the signal and the points exactly 

The Electric Telegraph has also been found a 
valuable auxiliary in ensuring the safe working of 
large railway traffics. Though the locomotive may 
run at 60 miles an hour, electricity, when at its 
fastest, travels at the rate of 288,000 miles a second, 
and is therefore always able to herald the coming 
train. The electric telegraph may, indeed, be re- 
garded as the nervous system of the railway. By 
its means the whole line is kept throbbing with 
intelligence. The method of working the electric 
signals varies on different lines ; but the usual prac- 


tice is, to divide a line into so many lengths, each 
protected by its signal-stations, — the fundamental 
law of telegraph-working being, that two engines 
are not to be allowed to run on the same line 
between two signal-stations at the same time. 

When a train passes one of such stations, it is 
immediately signalled on— usually by electric signal- 
bells— to the station in advance, and that interval 
of railway is ''blocked" until the signal has been 
received from the station in advance that the train 
has passed it. Thus an interval of space is always 
secured between trains following each other, which 
are thereby alike protected before and behind. And 
thus, when a train starts on a journey, it may be of 
hundreds of miles, it is signalled on from station to 
station — it *' lives along the line," — until at length it 
reaches its destination and the last signal of " train 
in " is given. By this means an immense number 
of trains can be worked with regularity and safety. 
On the South-Eastem Railway, where the system 
has been brought to a state of high efficiency, it 
is no unusual thing during Easter week to send 
600,000 passengers through the London Bridge 
Station alone; and on some days as many as 1200 
trains a-day. 

While such are the expedients adopted to ensure 
safety, others equally ingenious are adopted to en- 
sure speed. In the case of express and mail trains, 
the frequent stopping of the engines to take in a 
fresh supply of water occasions a considerable loss 
of time on a long journey, each stoppage for this 
purpose occupying from ten to fifteen minutes. To 
avoid such stoppages, larger tenders have b^en 


provided, capable of carrying as much as 2000 gal- 
lons of water each. But as a considerable time is 
occupied in filling these, a plan has been contrived 
by Mr. Ramsbottom, the Locomotive Engineer of 
the London and North- Western Railway, by which 
the engines are made to feed themselves while run- 
ning at full speed ! The plan is as follows : — An 
open trough, about 440 feet long, is laid longitudin- 
ally between the rails. Into this trough, which is 
filled with water, a dip-pipe or scoop attached to the 
bottom of the tender of the running train is lowered ; 
and, at a speed of 50 miles an hour, as much as 1070 
gallons of water are scooped up in the course of a 
few minutes. The first of such troughs was laid 
down between Chester and Holyhead, to enable the 
Express Mail to run the distance of 84} miles in 
two hours and five minutes without stopping; and 
similar troughs have since been laid down at Bushey 
near London, at Castlethorpe near Wolverton, and 
at Parkside near Liverpool. At these four troughs 
about 130,000 gallons of water are scooped up daily. 
Wherever railways have been made, new towns 
have sprung up, and old towns and cities been 
quickened into new life. When the first English 
lines were projected, great were the prophecies of 
disaster to the inhabitants of the districts through 
which they were proposed to be forced. Such fears 
have long since been dispelled in this country. 
The same prejudices existed in France. When the 
railway from Paris to Marseilles was laid out so as 
to pass through Lyons, a local prophet predicted 
that if the line were made the city would be ruined 
— ^^ Ville traversee^ ville perdue'^ ; while a local priest 
V. b 


denounced the locomotive and the electric telegraph 
as heralding the reign of Antichrist But such non-r 
sense is no longer uttered Now it is the city 
without the railway that is regarded as the "city 
lost " ; for it is in a measure shut out from the rest 
of the world, and left outside the pale of civilisa- 

Perhaps the most striking of all the illustrations 
that could be offered of the extent to which railways 
facilitate the locomotion, the industry, and the sub- 
sistence of the population of large towns and cities, 
is afforded by the working of the railway system in 
connection with the capital of Great Britain. 

The extension of railways to London has been 
of comparatively recent date; the whole of the lines 
connecting it with the provinces and terminating at 
its outskirts, having been opened during the last 
thirty years, while the lines inside London have for 
the most part been opened within the last sixteen 

The first London line was the Greenwich Rail- 
way, part of which was opened for traffic to Dept- 
ford in February 1836. The working of this railway 
was first exhibited as a show, and the usual attrac- 
tions were employed to make it " draw." A band 
of musicians in the garb of the Beef-eaters was 
stationed at the London end, and another band at 
Deptford. For cheapness' sake the Deptford band 
was shortly superseded by a large barrel-organ, 
which played in the passengers; but when the 
traffic became established, the barrel-organ, as well 
as the beef-eater band at the London end, were 
both discontinued. The whole length of the line 


was lit up at night by a row of lamps on either side 
like a street, as if to enable the locomotives or the 
passengers to see their way in the dark ; but these 
lamps also were eventually discontinued as unneces- 

As a show, the Greenwich Railway proved toler- 
ably successful. During the first eleven months it 
carried 456,750 passengers, or an average of about 
1300 a-day. But the railway having been found 
more convenient to the public than either the river 
boats or the omnibuses, the number of passengers 
rapidly increased. When the Croydon, Brighton, 
and South-Eastem Railways began to pour their 
streams of traffic over the Greenwich viaduct, its 
accommodation was found much too limited ; and it 
was widened from time to time, until now nine lines 
of railway are laid side by side, over which more 
than twenty millions of passengers are carried 
yearly, or an average of about 60,000 a day all the 
year round. 

Since the partial opening of the Greenwich 
Railway in 1836, a large extent of railways has been 
constructed in and about the metropolis, and con- 
venient stations have been established almost in the 
heart of the City. Sixteen of these stations are 
within a circle of half a mile radius from the Mansion 
House, and above three hundred stations are in 
actual use within about five miles of Charing Cross. 

To accommodate this vast traffic, not fewer than 
3600 local trains are run in and out daily, besides 
340 trains* which depart to and arrive from distant 
places, north, south, east, and west. In the morning 
hours, between 8.30 and 10.30, when business men 

b 2 


are proceeding inwards to their offices and counting- 
houses, and in the afternoon between four and six, 
when they are returning outwards to their homes, 
as many as two thousand stoppages are made in 
the hour, within the metropolitan district, for the 
purpose of taking up and setting down passengers, 
while about two miles of railway are covered by the 
running trains. 

One of the remarkable effects of railways has 
been to extend the residential area of all large towns 
and cities. This is especially notable in the case of 
London. Before the introduction of railways, the 
residential area of the metropolis was limited by 
the time occupied by business men in making the 
journey outwards and inwards daily; and it was 
for the most part bounded by Bow on the east, by 
Hampstead and Highgat^ on the north, by Padding- 
ton and Kensington on the west, and by Clapham 
and Brixton on the south. But now that stations 
have been established near the centre of the city, 
and places so distant as Waltham, Barnet, Watford, 
Hanwell, Richmond, Epsom, Croydon, Reigate, and 
Erith, can be more quickly reached by rail than the 
old suburban quarters were by omnibus, the metro- 
polis has become extended in all directions along 
its railway lines, and the population of London, 
instead of living in the City or its immediate 
vicinity, as formerly, have come to occupy a 
residential area of not less than six hundred square 
miles ! 

The number of new towns which have conse- 
quently sprung into existence near London within 
the last twenty years has been very great; towns 


numbering from ten to twenty thousand inhabitants, 
which before were but villages, — if, indeed, they 
existed. This has especially been the case along 
the lines south of the Thames, principally in conse- 
quence of the termini of those lines being more 
conveniently situated for city men of business. 
Hence the rapid growth of the suburban towns up 
and down the river, from Richmond and Staines on 
the west, to Erith and Gravesend on the east, and 
the hives of population which have settled on the 
high grounds south of the Thames, in the neighbour- 
hood of Norwood and the Crystal Palace, rapidly 
spreading over the Surrey Downs, from Wimbledon 
to Guildford, and from Bromley to Croydon, Epsom, 
and Dorking. And now that the towns on the 
south and south-east coast can be reached by city 
men in little more time than it takes to travel to 
Clapham or Bayswater by omnibus, such places 
have become as it were parts of the great metro- 
polis, and Brighton and Hastings are but the marine 
suburbs of London. 

The improved state of the communications of the 
City with the country has had a marked effect upon 
its population. While the action of the railways 
has been to add largely to the number of persons 
living in London, it has also been accompanied by 
their dispersion over a much larger area. Thus the 
population of the central parts of London is con- 
stantly decreasing, whereas that of the suburban 
districts is as constantly increasing. The population 
of the City fell off more than 10,000 between 1851 
and 1 861 ; and during the same period, that of 
Holbom, the Strand, St Martin's-in-the-Fields, St. 


James's, Westminster, East and West London, 
showed a considerable decrease. But, as regards 
the whole mass of the metropolitan population, the 
increase has been enormous. Thus, starting from 
1801, when the population of London was 958,863, 
we find it increasing in each decennial period at the 
rate of between two and three hundred thousand, 
until the year 1841, when it amounted to 1,948,369. 
Railways had by that time reached London, after 
which its population increased at nearly double the 
former ratio. In the ten years ending 1851, the 
increase was 513,867; and in the ten years ending 
1861, 441,753 : until now, to quote the words of the 
Registrar-General in a recent annual Report, **the 
population within the registration limits is by 
estimate 2,993,513; but beyond this central mass 
there is a ring of life growing rapidly, and extend- 
ing along railway lines over a circle of fifteen miles 
from Charing Cross. The population within that 
circle, patrolled by the metropolitan police, is about 

The aggregation of so vast a number of persons 
within so comparatively limited an area — the im- 
mense quantity of food required for their daily 
sustenance, as well as of fuel, clothing, and other 
necessaries — ^would be attended with no small in- 
convenience and danger, but for the facilities again 
provided by the railways. The provisioning of a 
garrison of even four thousand men is considered a 
formidable affair ; how much more so the provision- 
ing of nearly four millions of people ! 

The whole mystery is explained by the admir- 
able organisation of the railway service, and the 


regularity and despatch with which it is conducted. 
We are enabled by the courtesy of the General 
Managers of the London railways to bring together 
the following brief summary of facts relating to 
the food supply of London, which will probably be 
regarded by most readers as of a very remarkable 

Generally speaking, the railways to the south of 
the Thames contribute comparatively little towards 
the feeding of London. They are, for the most part, 
passenger and residential lines, traversing a limited 
and not very fertile district bounded by the sea- 
coast ; and, excepting in fruit and vegetables, milk 
and hops, they probably carry more food from 
London than they bring to it. The principal 
supplies of grain, flour, potatoes, and fish, are 
brought by railway from the eastern counties of 
England and Scotland ; and of cattle and sheep, beef 
and mutton, from the grazing counties of the west 
and north-west of Britain, as far as the Highlands 
of Scotland, which have, through the instrumentality 
of railways, become part of the great grazing-grounds 
of the metropolis. 

Take first " the staff of life " — bread and its con- 
stituents. Of wheat, not less than 222,080 quarters 
were brought into London by railway in 1867, 
besides what was brought by sea; of oats 151,757 
quarters; of barley 70,282 quarters; of beans and 
peas 51,448 quarters. Of the wheat and barley, by 
far the largest proportion is brought by the Great 
Eastern Railway, which delivers in London in one 
year 155,000 quarters of wheat and 45,500 quarters 
of barley, besides 600,429 quarters more in the form 


of malt The largest quantity of oats is brought by 
the Great Northern Railway, principally from the 
north of England and the East of Scotland, — the 
quantity delivered by that Company in 1867 having 
been 97,500 quarters, besides 24,664 quarters of 
wheat, 5560 quarters of barley, and 103,917 quarters 
of malt. Again, of 1,250,566 sacks of flour and meal 
delivered in London in one year, the Great Eastern 
brings 654,000 sacks, the Great Northern 232,022 
sacks, and the Great Western 136^312 sacks; the 
principal contribution of the London and North- 
western Railway towards the London bread-stores 
being 100,760 boxes of American flour, besides 
24,300 sacks of English. The total quantity of malt 
delivered at the London railway stations in 1867 
was thirteen hundred thousand sacks. 

Next, as to flesh meat. In 1867, not fewer than 
172,300 head of cattle were brought to London by 
railway, — though this was considerably less than 
the number carried before the cattle-plague, the 
Great Eastern Railway alone having carried 44,672 
less than in 1864. But this loss has since been more 
than made up by the increased quantities of fresh 
beef, mutton, and other kinds of meat imported in 
lieu of the live animals. The principal supplies of 
cattle are brought, as we have said, by the Western, 
Northern, and Eastern lines : by the Great Western 
from the western counties and Ireland ; by the 
London and North- Western, the Midland, and the 
Great Northern from the Northern counties and 
from Scotland ; and by the Great Eastern from the 
eastern counties and from the ports of Harwich and 


In 1867, also, 1,147,609 sheep were brought to 
London by railway, of which the Great Eastern 
delivered not less than 265,371 head. The London 
and North-Western and Great Northern between 
them brought 390,000 head from the northern English 
counties, with a large proportion from the Scotch 
Highlands. While the Great Western brought up 
130,000 head from the Welsh mountains and from 
the rich grazing districts of Wilts, Gloucester, 
Somerset, and Devon. Another important freight 
of the London and North- Western Railway consists 
of pigs, of which they delivered 54,700 in London, 
principally Irish ; while the Great Eastern brought 
up 27,500 of the same animal, partly foreign. 

While the cattle-plague had the effect of greatly 
reducing the number of live stock brought into 
London yearly, it gave a considerable impetus to 
the Fresh Meat trafiSc. Thus, in addition to the 
above large numbers of cattle and sheep delivered 
in London in 1867, the railways brought 76,175 tons 
of meat, which — taking the meat of an average beast 
at 800 lbs., and of an average sheep at 64 lbs. — would 
be equivalent to about 112,000 more cattle, and 
1,267,500 more sheep. The Great Northern brought 
the largest quantity; next the London and North- 
western ; — these two Companies having brought 
up between them, from distances as remote as 
Aberdeen and Inverness, about 42,000 tons of fresh 
meat in 1867, at an average freight of about id. a lb. 

Again as regards Fish, of which six-tenths of the 
whole quantity consumed in London is now brought 
by rail. The Great Eastern and the Great Northern 
are by far the largest importers of this article, and 


justify their claim to be regarded as the great food 
lines of London. Of the 61,358 tons offish brought 
by railway in 1867, not less than 24,500 tons were 
delivered by the former, and 22,000 tons, brought 
from much longer distances, by the latter Company. 
The London and North- Western brought about 
6000 tons, the principal part of which was salmon 
from Scotland and Ireland. The Great Western 
also brought about 4000 tons, partly salmon, but 
the greater part mackerel from the south-west coast. 
During the mackerel season, as much as a hundred 
tons at a time are brought into the Paddington 
Station by express fish-train from Cornwall. 

The Great Eastern and Great Northern 
Companies are also the principal carriers of turkeys, 
geese, fowls, and game; the quantity delivered in 
London by the former Company having been 
5042 tons. In Christmas week no fewer than 
30,000 turkeys and geese were delivered at the 
Bishopsgate Station, besides about 300 tons of 
poultry, 10,000 barrels of beer, and immense quan- 
tities of fish, oysters, and other kinds of food. As 
much as 1600 tons of poultry and game were brought 
last year by the South- Western Railway ; 600 tons 
by the Great Northern Railway; and 130 tons of 
turkeys, geese, and fowls, by the London, Chatham 
and Dover line, principally from France. 

Of miscellaneous articles, the Great Northern 
and the Midland each brought about 3000 tons of 
cheese, the South-Western 2600 tons, and the 
London and North-Western 10,034 cheeses in 
number; while the South-Western and Brighton 
lines brought a splendid contribution to the London 


breakfast-table in the shape of 1 1,259 ^^^^ of French 
eggs ; these two Companies delivering between 
them an average of more than three millions of eggs 
a week all the year round ! The same Companies 
delivered in London 14,819 tons of butter, for the 
most part the produce of the farms of Normandy, 
— the greater cleanness and neatness with which the 
Normandy butter is prepared for market rendering it 
a favourite both with dealers and consumers of late 
years compared with Irish butter. The London, 
Chatham and Dover Company also brought from 
Calais 96 tons of eggs. 

Next, as to the potatoes, vegetables, and fruit, 
brought by rail. Forty years since, the inhabitants 
of London relied for their supply of vegetables on 
the garden-grounds in the immediate neighbourhood 
of the metropolis, and the consequence was that 
they were both very dear and limited in quantity. 
But railways, while they have extended the grazing- 
grounds of London as far as the Highlands, have 
at the same time extended the garden-grounds of 
London into all the adjoining counties — into East 
Kent, Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk, the vale of 
Gloucester, and even as far as Penzance in Cornwall. 
The London, Chatham and Dover, one of the 
youngest of our main lines, brought up from East 
Kent in 1867 5279 tons of potatoes, 1046 tons of 
vegetables, and 5386 tons of fruit, besides 542 tons 
ot vegetables from France. The South-Eastern 
brought 25,163 tons of the same produce. The 
Great Eastern brought from the eastern counties 
21,315 tons of potatoes, and 3596 tons of vegetables 
and fruit; while the Great Northern brought no 


less than 78,505 tons of potatoes— a large part of 
them from the east of Scotland — and 3768 tons 
of vegetables and fruit. About 6000 tons of early 
potatoes were brought from Cornwall, with about 
5000 tons of brocoli, and the quantities are steadily 
increasing. "Truly London hath a large belly," 
said old Fuller, two hundred years since. But how 
much more capacious is it now 1 

One of the most striking illustrations of the utility 
of railways in contributing to the supply of whole- 
some articles of food to the population of large 
cities, is to be found in the rapid growth of the 
traffic in Milk. Readers of newspapers may remem- 
ber the descriptions published some years since of the 
horrid dens in which London cows were penned, 
and of the odious compound sold by the name of 
milk, of which the least deleterious ingredient in it 
was supplied by the " cow with the iron tail." That 
state of affairs is now completely changed. What 
with the greatly improved state of the London 
dairies and the better quality of the milk supplied 
by them, together with the large quantities brought 
by railway from a range of a hundred miles and 
more all round London, even the poorest classes 
in the metropolis are now enabled to obtain as 
wholesome a supply of the article as the inhabitants 
of most country towns. 

These great streams of food, which we have 
thus so summarily described, flow into London so 
continuously and uninterruptedly, that comparatively 
few persons are aware of the magnitude and import- 
ance of the process thus daily going forward. 
Though gathered from an immense extent of country 


— embracing England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland 
— the influx is so unintermitted that it is relied upon 
with as much certainty as if it only came from 
the counties immediately adjoining London. The 
express meat-train from Aberdeen arrives in town 
as punctually as the Clapham omnibus, and the 
express milk-train from Aylesbury is as regular in 
its delivery as the penny post Indeed London now 
depends so much upon railways for its subsistence, 
that it may be said to be fed by them from day to 
day, having never more than a few days' food in 
stock. And the supply is so regular and continuous, 
that the possibility of its being interrupted never for 
a moment occurs to any one. Yet in these days of 
strikes amongst workmen, such a contingency is quite 
within the limits of possibility. Another contingency 
which might arise during a state of war, is probably 
still more remote. But were it possible for a war 
to occur between England and a combination of 
foreign powers possessed of stronger ironclads than 
ours, and that they were able to ram our ships back 
into port and land an enemy of overpowering force 
on the Essex coast, it would be sufficient for them 
to occupy or cut the railways leading from the 
north, to starve London into submission in less than 
a fortnight. 

Besides supplying London with food, railways 
have also been instrumental in ensuring the more 
regular and economical supply of fuel, — a matter of 
almost as vital importance to the population in a 
climate such as that of England. So long as the 
market was supplied with coal brought by sea in 
sailing ships, fuel in winter often rose to a famine 


price, especially during long-continued easterly 
winds. But now that railways are in full work, the 
price is almost as steady in winter as in summer, 
and (but for strikes) the supply is more regular 
at all seasons. 

But the carriage of food and fuel to London forms 
but a small part of the merchandise traffic carried by 
railway. Above 600,000 tons of goods of various 
kinds yearly pass through one station only, that 
of the London and North-Westem Company, at 
Camden Town; and sometimes as many as 20,000 
parcels daily. Every other metropolitan station is 
similarly alive with traffic inwards and outwards, 
London having since the introduction of railways 
become more than ever a great distributive centre, 
to which merchandise of all kinds converges, and 
from which it is distributed to all parts of the 
country. Mr. Bazley, M.P., stated at a late public 
meeting at Manchester, that it would probably 
require ten millions of horses to convey by road the 
merchandise traffic which is now annually carried 
by railway. 

Railways have also proved of great value in 
connection with the Cheap Postage system. By 
their means it has become possible to carry letters, 
newspapers, books and post parcels, in any quantity, 
expeditiously, and cheaply. The Liverpool and 
Manchester line was no sooner opened in 1830, than 
the Post Office authorities recognised its utility, 
and used it for carrying the mails between the two 
towns. When the London and Birmingham line 
was opened eight years later, mail trains were at 
once put on, — the directors undertaking to perform 


the distance of 113 miles within 5 hours by day and 
5i hours by night. As additional lines were opened, 
the old four-horse mail coaches were gradually 
discontinued, until in 1858, the last of them, the 
" Derby Dilly," which ran between Manchester and 
Derby, was taken off on the opening of the Midland 
line to Rowsley. 

The increased accommodation provided by 
railways was found of essential importance, more 
particularly after the adoption of the Cheap Postage 
system ; and that such accommodation was needed 
will be obvious from the extraordinary increase which 
has taken place in the number of letters and packets 
sent by post. Thus, in 1839, the number of chargeable 
letters carried was only 76 millions, and of news- 
papers 44J millions; whereas, in 1865, the numbers 
of letters had increased to 720 millions, and in 1867 
to 775 millions, or more than ten-fold, while the 
number of newspapers, books, samples and patterns 
(a new branch of postal business began in 1864) had 
increased, in 1865, to 984 millions. 

To accommodate this largely-increasing traffic, the 
bulk of which is carried by railway, the mileage run 
by mail trains in the United Kingdom has increased 
from 25,000 miles a day in 1854 (the first year of 
which we have any return of the mileage run) to 
60,000 miles a day in 1867, or an increase of 240 
per cent. The Post Office expenditure on railway 
service has also increased, but not in like propor- 
tion, having been 364,000/. in the former year, and 
559,575/. in the latter, or an increase of 154 per cent. 
The revenue, gross and net, has increased still more 
rapidly. In 1841, the first complete year of the 


Cheap Postage system, the gross revenue was 
if3S9»466/. and the net revenue 500,789/. ; in 1854, the 
gross revenue was 2,574,407/., and the net revenue 
i|i73>723/. ; and in 1867 the gross revenue was 
4,548,129/, and the net revenue 2,127,125/, being an 
increase of 420 per cent compared with 1841, and 
of 180 per cent, compared with 1854. How much 
of this net increase might fairly be credited to the 
Railway Postal service we shall not pretend to 
say; but assuredly the proportion must be very 

One of the great advantages of railways in 
connection with the postal service is the greatly 
increased frequency of communication which they 
provide between all the large towns. Thus Liver- 
pool has now six deliveries of Manchester letters 
daily ; while every large town in the kingdom has 
two or more deliveries of London letters daily. 
In 1863, 393 towns had two mails daily from London ; 
50 had three mails daily ; 7 had four mails a day 
from London, and fifteen had four mails a day to 
London ; while three towns had five mails a day 
from London, and 6 had five mails a day to London. 

Another feature of the railway mail train, as of 
the passenger train, is its capacity to carry any 
quantity of letters and post parcels that may require 
to be carried. In 1838, the aggregate weight of all 
the evening mails despatched from London by 
twenty-eight mail coaches was 4 tons 6 cwt, or an 
average of about 3 J cwt. each, though the maximum 
contract weight was 15 cwt. The mails now are 
necessarily much heavier, the number of letters 
and packets having, as we have seen, increased 


more than ten-fold since 1839. But it is not the 
ordinary so much as the extraordinary mails that 
are of considerable weight, — more particularly the 
American, the Continental, and the Australian mails. 
It is no unusual thing, we are informed, for the last- 
mentioned mail to weigh as much as 40 tons. How 
many of the old mail coaches it would take to carry 
such a mail the 79 miles* journey to Southampton, 
with a relay of four horses every five or seven miles, 
is a problem for the arithmetician to solve. But 
even supposing each coach to be loaded to the 
maximum weight of 15 cwt. per coach, it would 
require about sixty vehicles and about 1700 horses 
to carry the 40 tons,besides the coachman and guards. 

Whatever may be said of the financial manage- 
ment of railways, th6re can be no doubt as to the 
great benefits conferred by them on the public 
wherever made. Even those railways which have 
exhibited the most ** frightful examples " of financing 
and jobbing, have been found to prove of unquestion- 
able public convenience and utility. And notwith- 
standing all the faults and imperfections that have 
been alleged against railways, we think that they 
must, nevertheless, be recognised as by far the most 
valuable means of communication between men and 
nations that has yet been given to the world. 

The author's object in publishing this book 
in its original form, was to describe, in connection 
with the * Life of George Stephenson,* the origin 
and progress of the railway system, — to show by 
what moral and material agencies its founders were 
enabled to carry their ideas into effect, and work 
out results which even then were of a remarkable 


character, though they have since, as above 
described, become so much more extraordinary. 
The favour with which successive editions of the 
book have been received, has justified the author 
in his anticipation that such a narrative would prove 
of general if not of permanent interest. 

The book was written with the concurrence 
and assistance of Robert Stephenson, who also 
supplied the necessary particulars relating to 
himself Such portions of these were accordingly 
embodied in the narrative as could with propriety 
be published during his lifetime, and the remaining 
portions have since been added, with the object of 
rendering more complete the record of the son's 
life as well as of the early history of the Railway 




The colliery districts of the North — Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 
ancient times — The Roman settlement — Social insecurity in the 
Middle Ages — Northumberland roads — ^The coal-trade — Modem 
Newcastle — Coal haulage — Early waggon-roads, tram-roads, and 
railways— Machinery of coal-mines — Newcomen's fire-engine — 
The colliers, their character and habits — Coal-staiths — The 
keelmen Page 1-13 




Wylam Colliery and village — George Stephenson's birth-place— 
His parents — The Stephenson family — Old Robert Stephenson — 
George's boyhood — Dewley Bum Colliery — Sister Nell's bonnet 
— Employed as a herd-boy — Makes clay engines — Follows the 
plough — Employed as corf-bitter — Drives the gin-horse — Black 
Callerton Colliery — Love of animals — Made assistant-fireman — 
Old Robert and family shift their home — ^Jolly's Close, Newbum 
— Family earnings— George as fireman — His athletic feats — 
Throcklcy Bridge — " A made man for life ! "—Appointed engine- 
man — Studies his engine — Experiments in egg-hatching — Puts 
himself to school, and learns to read — His schoolmasters — 
Progress in arithmetic — His dog — Learns to brake — Brakes- 
man at Black Callerton — Duties of brakesman — Begins shoe- 
making — Fanny Henderson — Saves his first guinea — Fight with 
a pitman .. .. .. .. 14-36 




Sobriety and studiousness — Inventiveness — Removes to Willington 
Quay — Marries Fanny Henderson — ^Their cottage at Willington 
— Attempts at perpetual motion — William Fairbaim and George 
Stephenson — Ballast-heaving — Chimney on 6re, and clock- 
cleaning — Birth of Robert Stephenson — George removes to 
West Moor, Killingworth — Death of his wife — Engineman at 
Montrose, Scotland — His pump-boot — Saves money — His return 
to Killingworth— Brakesman at West Moor— Is drawn for the 
Militia — Thinks of emigrating to America — Takes a contract 
for brakeing engines — Improves the winding-engine— Cures a 
pumping-engine — Becomes famous an an engine-doctor — 
Appointed engine-wright of a colliery .. .. Page 37-55 



George Stephenson's self-improvement — John Wigham — Studies in 
Natural Philosophy— Sobriety — Education of Robert Stephenson 
— Sent to Rutter's school, Benton — Bruce's school, Newcastle — 
Literary and Philosophical Institute — George educates his son 
in Mechanics — Ride to Killingworth — Robert's boyish tricks — 
Repeats the Franklin kite-experiment — Stephenson's cottage, 
West Moor — Odd mechanical expedients — Competition in last- 
making — Father and son make a sun-dial — Colliery improve- 
ments — Stephenson's mechanical expertness .. .. 56-74 



Various expedients for coal-haulage — Sailing-waggons — Mr. Edg- 
worth's experiments — Cugnot's first locomotive steam-carriage — 
Murdock's model locomotive — Trevithick's steam-carriage and 
tram-engine — Blenkinsop's engine — Chapman and Bninton's 
locomotives — The Wylam waggon-way — Mr. Blackett's experi- 


ments— Jonathan Foster— William Hedley — The Wylam engine 
— Stephenson determines to build a locomotive— Lord Ravens- 
worth — The first Killingworth engine described — The steam- 
blast invented — Stephenson's second locomotive .. Page 75-105 



Frequency of colliery explosions — Accident in the Killingworth Pit 
— Stephenson's heroic conduct — A safety -lamp described — Dr. 
Clanny's lamp — Stephenson's experiments on fire-damp — Designs 
a lamp, and tests it in the pit — Cottage experiments with coal- 
gas — Stephenson's second and third lamps — The Stephenson 
and Davy controversy — Scene at the Newcastle Institute — The 
Davy testimonial — The Stephenson testimonial — Merits of the 
" Geordy " lamp 106-129 



The Killingworth mine machinery — Stephenson improves his loco- 
motive — Strengthens the road— His patent— His steam-springs 
— Experiments on friction— Steam locomotion on common roads 
— Early neglect of the locomotive — Stephenson again thinks of 
emigration — Constructs the Hetton Railway — ^The working power 
employed — Robert Stephenson viewer's apprentice — His pursuits 
at Killingworth — His father sends him to Edinburgh University 
— His application to the studies of Chemistry, Natural History, 
and Natural Philosophy — His MS. volumes of Lectures — Geo- 
logical tour with Professor Jameson in the Highlands 130-146 



The Bishop Auckland Coal-field — Edward Pease projects a rail- 
way from Witton to Stockton— The Bill rejected — The line 

C 2 


re-surveyed, and the Act obtained — George Stephenson's visit 
to Edward Pease — Appointed engineer of the railway — Again 
surveys the line — Mr. Pease visits Killingworth — The Newcastle 
locomotive works projected — The railway constructed — Loco- 
motives ordered —Stephenson's anticipations as to railways — 
Public opening of the line — The coal traffic — The first railway 
passenger-coach — The coaching traffic described — The "Loco- 
motion" engine — Race with stage-coach — Commercial results 
of the Stockton and Darlington Railway — The town of Middles- 
borough created Page 147-174 



Insufficient communications between Manchester and Liverpool — 
The canal monopoly — A tramroad projected — ^Joseph Sandars — 
Sir R. Phillips's speculations as to railways — ^Thomas Gray — 
William James sur^'eys a line between Liverpool and Manchester 
— Opposition to the survey — Mr. James's visits to Killingworth — 
Robert Stephenson assists in the survey — George Stephenson 
appointed engineer — The first prospectus — Stephenson's survey 
opposed — The canal companies — Speculations as to railway 
speed — Stephenson's notions thought extravagant — Article in 
the 'Quarterly'— The Bill before Parliament— The Evidence- 
George Stephenson in the witness box — Examined as to speed — 
His cross-examination — The survey found defective — Mr. Harri- 
son's speech — Evidence of opposing engineers — Mr, Alderson's 
speech— The Bill withdrawn — Stephenson's vexation — The 
scheme prosecuted — The line re-surveyed — Sir Isaac Coffin's 
speech — The Act passed .. .. .. .. 175-207 



George Stephenson appointed engineer— Chat Moss described — 
The resident engineers — Mr. Dixon's visit of inspection — Stephen- 
son's theory of a floating road— Operations begun — Tar-barrel 
drains— The embankment sinks in the Moss— Proposed aban- 
donment of the wprk- Stephenson perseveres— The obstacles 


conquered — Road across Parr Moss — The road formed — 
Stephenson's organization of labour — The Liverpool Tunnel — 
Olive Mount cutting — Sankey Viaduct — Stephenson and Cropper 
— Stephenson's labours — Pupils and assistants — His daily life— 
Practical education — Evenings at home Page 208-231 



Robert Stephenson mining engineer in Colombia — Mule journey 
to Bogota — Mariquita — Silver mining— Difficulties with the 
Comishmen — His cottage at Santa Anna — Longs to return 
home — Resigns his post — Meeting with Trevithick — Voyage to 
New York, and shipwreck — Returns to Newcastle, and takes 
charge of the factory — ^The working power of the Liverpool and 
Manchester Railway — Fixed engines and locomotives, and their 
respective advocates — ^Walker and Rastrick's report — A prize 
offered for the best locomotive-— Conferences of the Stephensons 
— Boiler arrangements and heating surface — Mr. Booth's con- 
trivance— Building of the "Rocket" — The competition of engines 
at Rainhill— The " Novelty " and ** Sanspareil "—Triumph of the 
"Rocket," and its destination .. .. .. 232-265 



The railway finished — The traffic arrangements organized — Public 
opening of the line — Accident to Mr. Huskisson — Arrival of the 
trains at Manchester — The traffic results — Improvement of the 
road and rolling stock — Improvements in the locomotive — The 
railway a wonder — Extension of the railway system — ^Joint-stock 
railway companies — New lines projected — New engineers — The 
Grand Junction — Public opposition to railways — Robert Stephen- 
son engineer to the Leicester and Swannington Railway— George 
Stephenson removes to Snibston — Sinks for and gets coal — 
Stimwlates local enterprise— His liberality .. ., 266-284 




The line projected — George and Robert Stephenson appointed 
engineers — Opposition — Hostile pamphlets and public meetings — 
Robert Stephenson and Sir Astley Cooper — ^The survey obstructed 
— The opposing clergyman — The Bill in Parliament — Thrown out 
in the Lords — Proprietors conciliated, and the Act obtained — 
The works let in contracts— The difficulties of the undertaking — 
The line described — Blisworth Cutting — Primrose Hill Tunnel — 
Kilsby Tunnel — Its construction described — Cost of the Railway 
greatly increased — Failure of contractors — Magnitude of the 
works — Railway navvies .. .. .. Page 285-304 



Projection of new lines — Dutton Viaduct, Grand Junction — The 
Manchester and Leeds— Summit Tunnel, Littleborough — Magni- 
tude of the work — The Midland Railway — The works compared 
with the Simplon road — Slip near Ambergate — Bull Bridge — 
The York and North Midland — George Stephenson on his 
surveys — His quick observation — Travelling and correspondence 
— Life at Alton Grange — The Stephensons' London office — Visits 
to Belgium — Interviews with the King — Public openings of Eng- 
lish railways — Stephenson's pupils and assistants — Prophecies 
falsified concerning railways — Their advantageous results 




George Stephenson on railways and coal-traffic— Leases the Clay- 
cross estate, and sinks for coal — His extensive lime- works — 
Removes to Tapton House — British Association at Newcastle — 


Appears at Mechanics' Institutes— Speech at Leeds — His self- 
acting brake — His views of railway speed — Theory of " undu- 
lating lines ^ — Chester and Birkenhead Company — Stephenson's 
liberality — ^Atmospheric railways projected — Stephenson opposes 
the principle of working — The railway mania — Stephenson 
resists, and warns against it — George Hudson, ** Railway King " 
— Parliament and the mania — Stephenson's letter to Sir R. Peel — 
Again visits Belgium — Interviews with King Leopold — ^Journey 
into Spain PAGE 331-362 

ROBERT Stephenson's career — ^the stephensons and bru- 


George Stephenson's retirement — Robert's employment as Parlia- 
mentary Engineer — His rival Brunei — The Great Western Rail- 
way — The width of gauge — Robert Stephenson's caution as to 
investments — ^The Newcastle and Berwick Railway — Contest in 
Parliament — George Stephenson's interview with Lord Howick 
— Royal Border Bridge, Berwick — Progress of iron-bridge build- 
ing — Robert Stephenson constructs the High Level Bridge, 
Newcastle — Pile-driving by steam — Characteristics of the struc- 
ture — Through railway to Scotland completed .. 363-385 



George Stephenson surveys a line from Chester to Holyhead — 
Robert Stephenson's construction of the works at Penmaen 
Mawr — Crossing of the Menai Strait — ^Various plans proposed 
— ^A tubular beam determined on — Strength of wrought-iron 
tubes — Mr. William Fairbaim consulted — His experiments — 
The design settled — The Britannia Bridge described — The 
Conway Bridge — Floating of the tubes — Lifting of the tubes — 
Robert Stephenson's anxieties — Bursting of the Hydraulic Press 
— ^The works completed — Merits of the Britannia and Conway 
Bridges 386-410 


GEORGE Stephenson's closing years — illness and 


George Stephenson's Life at Tapton — Experiments in Horticulture, 
Gardening, and Farming — Affection for animals — Bird-hatching 
and bee-keeping — Reading and conversation — Rencontre with 
Lord Denman — Hospitality at Tapton — Experiments with the 
microscope — Frolics — "A crowdie night" — Visits to London — 
Visit to Sir Robert Peel at Drayton Manor — Encounter with 
Dr. Buckland — Coal formed by the sun's light — Opening of the 
Trent Valley Railway — Meeting with Emerson — Illness, death, 
and funeral — Memorial Statues .. Page 41 1-429 

ROBERT Stephenson's victoria bridge, lower Canada — 


Robert Stephenson's inheritances — Gradual retirement from the 
profession of engineer — His last great works — Tubular Bridges 
over the St. Lawrence and the Nile — The Grand Trunk Railway, 
Canada — Necessity for a great railway bridge near Montreal — 
Discussion as to the plan — Robert Stephenson's report — A 
tubular bridge determined on — Massiveness of the piers — Ice- 
floods in the St. Lawrence — Victoria Bridge constructed and 
completed — Tubular bridges in Egypt — ^The Suez Canal — Robert 
Stephenson's employment as arbitrator — Assists Brunei at 
launching of the " Great Eastern " — Regardlessness of health — 
Death and Fimeral — Characteristics of the Stephensons and 
rdsum^ of their history — Politics of father and son — Services 
rendered to civilization by the Stephensons 430-458 

Index .. 459-466 



Geokgb Stephenson • Frontispiece, 

The Birthplace of George Stephenson . . . to face page 14 

Safety Lamps „ 120 

The "Rocket" „ 256 

The Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon- 
Tweed „ 374 

The High Level Bridge at Newcastle ... 1, 302 

The Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straits ,, 410 


High Level Bridge, to face . . i 
Map of Newcastle District . . 2 
Flange rail ...... 7 

Coal-staith on the Tyne 

Coal wagons 13 

Wylam Colliery and village . 14 
High Street Hoose, WyUm— 
George Stephenson's birth- 
place 16 

Newburn on the Tyne ... 23 
Colliery Whimsey .... 36 
Stephenson's Cottage, Willing- 
ton Quay 37 

West Moor Colliery ... 43 

Killingworth High Pit . . . 55 

Glebe Farm House, Benton 56 
Rutter's School House, Long 

Benton 61 

Bmoe's School, Newcastle . . 63 
Stephenson's Cottage, West 

Moor 68 

Sun-dial at Killingworth . . 71 
Colliers' Cottages at Long 

Benton 74 

Cugnot's Engine 76 

Section of Murdock's Model 

Locomotive 79 

Trevithick's high - pressure 

Tram-Engine 83 

Improved Wylam Engine . . 93 


Spur-gear 99 

The Pit-head, West Moor . . 107 
Davy's v»d Stephenson's 

Safety-lamps 120 

West Moor Pit, Killingworth . 129 

Half-lap joint 132 

Old Killingworth Locomotive . 135 
Map of Stockton and Darling- 
ton Railway 147 

Portrait of Edward Pease . . 148 
The first Railway Coach . .166 
The No. I. Engine at Dar- 
lington 170 

Middlesborough-on-Tees . .174 
Map of Liverpool and Man- 
chester Railway (Western 

part) 180 

„ „ (Eastern 

part) 181 

Surveying on Chat Moss . . 207 
Olive Mount Cutting . . . 222 

Sankey Viaduct 224 

Robert Stephenson's Cottage at 

Santa Anna 238 

The " Rocket " 255 

Locomotive competition. Rain- 
hill 259 

Railway versus Road . . . 265 
Map of Leicester and Swan- 
nington Railway .... 280 




Stephenson's House at Alton 

Grange 2S4 

Map of London and Birming- 
ham Railway (Rugby to Wat- 
ford) 291 

Blisworth Cutting .... 293 
Shafts over Kilsby Tunnel . . 29$ 

Dutton Viaduct 306 

Entrance to Summit Tunnel, 
Lancashire and Yorkshire 

Railway 308 

Land-slip, near Ambergate, 

North Midland Railway . .311 
Bullbridge, near Ambergate . 313 
Coalville and Snibston Colliery 330 
Tapton House, near Chester- 
held 331 

Lime-works at Ambergate . . 334 
Newcastle, from the High Level 
Bridge 363 

Royal Border Bridge, Berwick- 
upon-Tweed ..... 375 
High Level Bridge — Elevation 

of one Arch 383 

Penmaen Mawr 388 

Map of Menai Straits . . . 391 
Conway Tubular Bridge . .401 
Britannia Bridge .... 407 
Conway Bridge — Floating the 

first Tube 410 

View in Tapton Gardens . .411 
Pathway to Tapton House . .418 
Trinity Church, Chesterfield . 427 
Tablet in Trinity Church, Ches- 
terfield 429 

The Victoria Bridge, Montreal 430 
Robert Stephenson's Burial- 
place in Westminster Abbey. 444 
The Stephenson Memorial 
Schools, Willington Quay . 458 

Newcastlb-upon-Tvnk and the High Level Bridge. 
£By R. P. Leitch, after his original drawing.] 






In no quarter of England have greater changes been 
wrought by the successive advances made in the 
practical science of engineering than in the extensive 
colliery districts of the North, of which Newcastle- 
upon>-Tyne is the centre and the capital. 

In ancient times the Romans planted a colony at 
Newcastle, throwing a bridge across the Tyne near 
the site of the low-level bridge shown in the pre- 
fixed engraving, and erecting a strong fortification 
above it on the high ground now occupied by the 
Central Railway Station. North and north-west 
lay a wild country, abounding in moors, mountains, 
and morasses, but occupied to a certain extent by 
fierce and barbarous tribes. To defend the young 
colony against their ravages, a strong wall was 
built by the Romans, extending from Wallsend on 
the north bank of the Tyne, a few miles below 
Newcastle, across the country to Burgh-upon-Sands 
on the Solway Frith. The remains of the wall are 
still to be traced in the less populous hill-districts 
of Northumberland. In the neighbourhood of 


Newcastle they have been gradually effaced by the 
works of succeeding generations, though the 
" Wallsend " coal consumed in our household fires 
still serves to remind us of the great Roman work. 

After the withdrawal of the Romans, North- 
umbria became planted by immigrant Saxons from 
North Germany and Norsemen from Scandinavia, 
whose Eorls or Earls made Newcastle their principal 
seat. Then came the Normans, from whose New 
Castle, built some eight hundred years since, the town 
derived its present name. The keep of this venerable 

Map of Newcastle District. 

structure, black with age and smoke, still stands 
entire at the northern end of the noble high-level 
bridge — the utilitarianwork of modern times thus con- 
fronting the warlike relic of the older civilisation. 

The nearness of Newcastle to the Scotch border 
was a great hindrance to its security and progress 
in the middle ages of English history. Indeed, the 
district between it and Berwick continued to be 
ravaged by moss-troopers long after the union of 
the Crowns. The gentry lived in their strong Peel 
castles ; even the larger farm-houses were fortified ; 


and bloodhounds were trained for the purpose of 
tracking the cattle-reavers to their retreats in the 
hills. The Judges of Assize rode from Carlisle to 
Newcastle guarded by an escort armed to the teeth. 
A tribute called ** dagger and protection money" 
was annually paid by the Sheriff of Newcastle for 
the purpose of providing daggers and other weapons 
for the escort ; and, though the need of such 
protection has long since ceased, the tribute con- 
tinues to be paid in broad gold pieces of the time of 
Charles the First. 

Until about the middle of last century the roads 
across Northumberland were little better than 
horse-tracks, and not many years since the primitive 
agricultural cart with solid wooden wheels was 
almost as common in the western parts of the county 
as it is in Spain now. The tract of the old Roman 
road continued to be the most practicable route 
between Newcastle and Carlisle, the traffic between 
the two towns having been carried along it upon 
pack-horses until a comparatively recent period. 

Since that time great changes have taken place 
on the Tyne. When wood for firing became scarce 
and dear, and the forests of the South of England 
were found inadequate to supply the increasing 
demand for fuel, attention was turned to the rich 
stores of coal lying underground in the neighbour- 
hood of Newcastle and Durham. It then became 
an article of increasing export, and " seacoal " fires 
gradually supplanted those of wood. Hence an old 
writer described Newcastle as " the Eye of the North 
and the Hearth that warmeth the South parts of 
this kingdom with Fire." Fuel has become the 
staple product of the district, the quantity exported 
increasing from year to year, until the coal raised 

B 2 


from these northern mines amounts to upwards of 
sixteen millions of tons a year, of which not less 
than nine millions are annually conveyed away by 

Newcastle has in the mean time spread in all 
directions far beyond its ancient boundaries. From 
a walled mediaeval town of monks and merchants, it 
has been converted into a busy centre of commerce 
and manufactures inhabited by nearly 100,000 people. 
It is no longer a Border fortress — a "shield and 
defence against the invasions and frequent insults 
of the Scots," as described in ancient charters — but 
a busy centre of peaceful industry, and the outlet 
for a vast amount of steam-power, which is exported 
in the form of coal to all parts of the world. New- 
castle is in many respects a town of singular and 
curious interest, especially in its older parts, which 
are full of crooked lanes and narrow streets, wynds, 
and chares,* formed by tall, antique houses, rising 
tier above tier along the steep northern bank of the 
Tyne, as the similarly precipitous streets of Gates- 
head crowd the opposite shore. 

All over the coal region, which extends from the 
Coquet to the Tees, about fifty miles from north 
to south, the surface of the soil exhibits the signs 
of extensive underground workings. As you pass 
through the country at night, the earth looks as if 
it were bursting with fire at many points ; the blaze 

* In the Newcastle dialect, a chare is a narrow street or lane. 
At the local assizes some years since, one of the witnesses in a 
criminal trial swore that " he saw three men come out of the foot of 
a chareP The judge cautioned the jury not to pay any regard to 
the man's evidence, as he must be insane. A litt'e explanation by 
the foreman, however, satisfied his lordship that the original state- 
ment was correct. 


of coke-ovens, iron-furnaces, and coal-heaps red- 
dening the sky to such a distance that the horizon 
seems to be a glowing belt of fire. 

From the necessity which existed for facilitating 
the transport of coals from the pits to the shipping 
places, it is easy to understand how the railway and 
the locomotive should have first found their home 
in such a district as we have thus briefly described. 
At an early period the coal was carried to the boats 
in panniers, or in sacks upon horses* backs. Then 
carts were used, to facilitate the progress of which 
tramways of flag-stone were laid down. This led 
to the enlargement of the vehicle, which became 
known as a waggon, and it was mounted on four 
wheels instead of two. A local writer about the 
middle of the seventeenth century says, " Many 
thousand people are engaged in this trade of coals ; 
many live by working of them in the pits ; and 
many live by conveying them in waggons and wains 
to the river Tyne." 

Still further to facilitate the haulage of the 
waggons, pieces of planking were laid parallel 
upon wooden sleepers, or imbedded in the ordinary 
track, by which friction was still further diminished. 
It is said that these wooden rails were first em- 
ployed by one Beaumont, about 1630; and on a 
road thus laid, a single horse was capable of 
drawing a large loaded waggon from the coal-pit 
to the shipping staith. Roger North, in 1676, found 
the practice had become extensively adopted, and 
he speaks of the large sums then paid for way- 
leaves ; that is, the permission granted by the 
owners of lands lying between the coal-pit and the 
river-side to lay down a tramway between the one and 
the other. A century later, Arthur Young observed 


that not only had these roads become greatly 
multiplied, but important works had been con- 
structed to carry them along upon the same 
level. "The coal-waggon roads from the pits to 
the water," he says, ** are great works, carried over 
all sorts of inequalities of ground, so far as the 
distance of nine or ten miles. The tracks of the 
wheels are marked with pieces of wood let into the 
road for the wheels of the waggons to run on, by 
which one horse is enabled to draw, and that with 
ease, fifty or sixty bushels of coals." * 

Similar waggon-roads were laid down in the 
coal districts of Wales, Cumberland, and Scotland. 
At the time of the Scotch rebellion in 1745, a tram- 
road existed between the Tranent coal-pits and the 
small harbour of Cockenzie in East Lothian ; and a 
portion of the line was selected by General Cope as 
a position for his cannon at the battle of Preston- 

In these rude wooden tracks we find the germ of 
the modern railroad. Improvements were gradually 
made in them. Thus, at some collieries, thin plates 
of iron were nailed upon their upper surface, for 
the purpose of protecting the parts most exposed to 
friction. Cast-iron rails were also tried, the wooden 
rails having been found liable to rot. The first rails 
of this kind are supposed to have been used at 
Whitehaven as early as 1738. This cast-iron road 
was denominated a ** plate-way," from the plate-like 
form in which the rails were cast. In 1767, as 
appears from the books of the Coalbrookdale Iron 
Works, in Shropshire, five or six tons of rails 
were cast, as an experiment, on the suggestion of 

* * Six Months' Tour,' voL iii. 9. 


Mr. ReynoldSj one of the partners ; and they were 
shortly after laid down to form a road. 

In 1776, a cast-iron tramway, nailed to wooden 
sleepers, was laid down at the Duke of Norfolk's 
colliery near Sheffield. The person who designed 
and constructed this coal line was Mr. John Curr, 
whose son has erroneously claimed for him the 
invention of the cast-iron railway. He certainly 
adopted it early, and thereby met the fate of men 
before their age ; for his plan was opposed by the 
labouring people of the colliery, who got up a riot 
in which they tore up the road 
and burnt the coal-staith, whilst 
Mr. Curr fled into a neigh- 
bouring wood for concealment 
and lay there perdu for three 
days and nights, to escape the 
fury of the populace. The 
plates of these early tramways 
had a ledge cast on their edge 
to guide the wheel along the 
road, after the manner shown 
in the annexed cut. 

In 1789, Mr. William Jessop constructed a 
railway at Loughborough, in Leicestershire, and 
there introduced the cast-iron edge-rail, with 
flanches cast upon the tire of the waggon-wheels 
to keep them on the track, instead of having the 
margin or flanch cast upon the rail itself; and this 
plan was shortly after adopted in other places. In 
1800, Mr. Benjamin Outram, of Little Eaton, in 
Derbyshire (father of the distinguished General 
Outram), used stone props instead of timber for 
supporting the ends or joinings of the rails. Thus 
the use of railroads, in various forms, gradually 


extended, until they were found in general use all 
over the mining districts. 

Such was the growth of the railway, which, it 
will be observed, originated in necessity, and was 
modified according to experience ; progress in this, 
as in all departments of mechanics, having been 
effected by the exertions of many men, one genera- 
tion entering upon the labours of that which pre- 
ceded it, and carrying them onward to further 
stages of improvement. We shall afterwards find 
that the invention of the locomotive was made by 
like successive steps. It was not the invention of 
one man, but of a succession of men, each working 
at the proper hour, and according to the needs of 
that hour; one inventor interpreting only the first 
word of the problem which his successors were to 
solve after long and laborious efforts and experi- 
ments. ** The locomotive is not the invention of one 
man," said Robert Stephenson at Newcastle, '*but of 
a nation of mechanical engineers." 

The same circumstances which led to the rapid 
extension of railways in the coal districts of the 
north tended to direct the attention of the mining 
engineers to the early development of the powers of 
the steam-engine as a useful instrument of motive 
power. The necessity which existed for a more 
effective method of hauling the coals from the pits to 
the shipping places was constantly present to many 
minds ; and the daily pursuits of a large class of 
mechanics occupied in the management of steam 
power, by which the coal was raised from the pits, 
and the mines were pumped clear of water, had the 
effect of directing their attention to the same agency 
as the best means for accomplishing that object. 

Among the upper-ground workmen employed at 


the coal-pits, the principal are the firemen, engine- 
men, and brakes-men, who fire and work the 
engines, and superintend the machinery by means of 
which the collieries are worked. Previous to the 
introduction of the steam-engine the usual machine 
employed for the purpose was what is called a 
"gin." The gin consists of a large drum placed 
horizontally, round which ropes attached to buckets 
and corves are wound, which are thus drawn up or 
sent down the shafts by a horse travelling in a 
circular track or "gin race." This method was 
employed for drawing up both coals and water, and 
it is still used for the same purpose in small 
collieries ; but where the quantity of water to be 
raised is great, pumps worked by steam power are 
called into requisition. 

Newcomen's atmospheric engine was first made 
use of to work the pumps ; and it continued to be so 
employed long after the more powerful and econo- 
mical condensing engine of Watt had been invented. 
In the Newcomen or "fire engine," as it was called, 
the power is produced by the pressure of the 
atmosphere forcing down the piston in the cylinder, 
on a vacuum being produced within it by condensa- 
tion of the contained steam by means of cold water 
injection. The piston-rod is attached to one end of 
a lever, whilst the pump-rod works in connexion 
with the other, — the hydraulic action employed to 
raise the water being exactly similar to that of a 
common sucking-pump. 

The working of a Newcomen engine was a 
clumsy and apparently a very painful process, 
accompanied by an extraordinary amount of wheez- 
ing, sighing, creaking, and bumping. When the 
pump descended, there was heard a plunge, a heavy 


sigh, and a loud bump : then, as it rose, and the 
sucker began to act, there was heard a creak, a 
wheeze, another bump, and then a strong rush of 
water as it was lifted and poured out. Where 
engines of a more powerful and improved description 
are used, the quantity of water raised is enormous — 
as much as a million and a half gallons in the twenty- 
four hours. 

The pitmen, or '* the lads belaw," who work out 
the coal below ground, are a peculiar class, quite 
distinct from the workmen on the surface. They are 
a people with peculiar habits, manners, and character, 
as much as fishermen and sailors, to whom, indeed, 
they bear, in some respects, a considerable resem- 
blance. Some fifty years since they were a much 
rougher and worse educated class than they are 
now ; hard workers, but very wild and uncouth ; 
much given to " steeks," or strikes ; and distinguished, 
in their hours of leisure and on pay-nights, for their 
love of cock-fighting, dog-fighting, hard drinking, 
and cuddy races. The pay-night was a fortnightly 
saturnalia, in which the pitman's character was fully 
brought out, especially when the " yel " was good. 
Though earning much higher wages than the 
ordinary labouring population of the upper soil, the 
latter did not mix nor intermarry with them ; so that 
they were left to form their own communities, and 
hence their marked peculiarities as a class. Indeed, 
a sort of traditional disrepute seems long to have 
clung to the pitmen, arising perhaps from the nature 
of their employment, and from the circumstance 
that the colliers were among the last classes en- 
franchised in England, as they were certainly the 
last in Scotland, where they continued bondmen 
down to the end of last century. The last thirty 



CHAP l] 

years, however, have worked a great improvement 
in the moral condition of the Northumbrian pitmen ; 
the abolition of the twelve months* bond to the 
mine, and the substitution of a month's notice 
previous to leaving, having given them greater 
freedom and opportunity for obtaining employment; 
and day-schools and Sunday-schools, together with 
the important influences of railways, have brought 

Coal-Staith on the Tyne. 

them fully up to a level with the other classes of the 
labouring population. 

The coals, when raised from the pits, are emptied 
into the waggons placed alongside, from whence 
they are sent along the rails to the staiths erected 
by the river-side, the waggons sometimes descending 
by their own gravity along inclined planes, the 
waggoner standing behind to check the speed by 
means of a convoy or wooden brake bearing upon 
the rims of the wheels. Arrived at the staiths, the 


waggons are emptied at once into the ships waiting 
alongside for cargo. Any one who has sailed down 
the Tyne from Newcastle Bridge cannot but have 
been struck with the appearance of the immense 
staiths, constructed of timber, which are erected at 
short distances from each other on both sides of the 

But a great deal of the coal shipped from the 
Tyne comes from above-bridge, where sea-going 
craft cannot reach, and is floated down the river in 
" keels," in which the coals are sometimes piled up 
according to convenience when large, or, when the 
coal is small or tender, it is conveyed in tubs to 
prevent breakage. These keels are of a vefy ancient 
model, — perhaps the oldest extant in England : they 
are even said to be of the same build as those in 
which the Norsemen navigated the Tyne centuries 
ago. The keel is a tubby, grimy-looking craft, 
rounded fore and aft, with a single large square sail, 
which the keel-bullies, as the Tyne watermen are 
called, manage with great dexterity; the vessel 
being guided by the aid of the " swape," or great oar, 
which is used as a kind of rudder at the stern of the 
vessel. These keelmen are an exceedingly hardy 
class of workmen, not by any means so quarrelsome 
as their designation of "bully" would imply — the 
word being merely derived from the obsolete term 
**boolie," or beloved, an appellation still in familiar 
use amongst brother workers in the coal districts. 
One of the most curious sights upon the Tyne is 
the fleet of hundreds of these black-sailed, black- 
hulled keels, bringing down at each tide their 
black cargoes for the ships at anchor in the deep 
water at Shields and other parts of the river below 

CHAP l] 



These preliminary observations will perhaps be 
sufficient to explain the meaning of many of the 
occupations alluded to, and the phrases employed, 
in the course of the following narrative, some of 
which might otherwise have been comparatively 
unintelligible to the general reader. 

Coal Waggons. 

Wylain Colliery and Village. 



The colliery village of Wylam is situated on the 
north bank of the Tyne, about eight miles west 
of Newcastle. The Newcastle and Carlisle railway 
runs along the opposite bank ; and the traveller 
by that line sees the usual signs of a colliery in 
the unsightly pumping-engines surrounded by 
heaps of ashes, coal-dust, and slag ; whilst a neigh- 
bouring iron-furnace in full blast throws out dense 
smoke and loud jets of steam by day and lurid 













flames at night. These works form the nucleus of 
the village, which is almost entirely occupied by 
coal-miners and iron-furnacemen. The place is 
remarkable for its large population, but not for 
its cleanness or neatness as a village ; the houses, 
as in most colliery villages, being the property 
of the owners or lessees, who employ them in 
temporarily accommodating the workpeople, against 
whose earnings there is a weekly set-off for house 
and coals. About the end of last century the 
estate of which Wylam forms part belonged to 
Mr. Blackett, a gentleman of considerable celebrity 
in coal-mining, then more generally known as the 
proprietor of the * Globe ' newspaper. 

There is nothing to interest one in the village 
itself But a few hundred yards from its eastern 
extremity stands a humble detached dwelling, 
which will be interesting to many as the birthplace 
of one of the most remarkable men of our times — 
George Stephenson, the Railway Engineer. It is 
a common two-storied, red-tiled, rubble house, 
portioned off into four labourers* apartments. It is 
known by the name of High Street House, and was 
originally so called because it stands by the side 
of what used to be the old riding post road or 
street between Newcastle and Hexham, along which 
the post was carried on horseback within the 
memory of persons living. 

The lower room in the west end of this house 
was the home of the Stephenson family ; and there 
George Stephenson was born, the second of a family 
of six children, on the 9th of June, 1781. The apart- 
ment is now, what it was then, an ordinary labourer's 
dwelling, — its walls are unplastered, its floor is of 
clay, and the bare rafters are exposed overhead. 

i6 Stephenson's parents [chap ii 

Robert Stephenson, or " Old Bob," as the 
neighbours familiarly called him, and his wife 
Mabel, were a respectable couple, careful and hard- 
working. It is said that Robert Stephenson's 
father was a Scotchman, and came into England 
as a gentleman's servant. Mabel, his wife, was the 
daughter of Robert Carr, a dyer at Ovingham. 

High-street House, Wylam, the Birthplace of George Stephenson. 

When first married, they lived at Walbottle, a 
village situated between Wylam and Newcastle, 
afterwards removing to Wylam, where Robert was 
employed as fireman of the old pum ping-engine at 
that colliery. 

An old Wylam collier, who remembered 
George Stephenson's father, thus described him : — 


**Geordie's fayther war like a peer o* deals nailed 
thegither, an' a bit o* flesh i' th' inside; he war 
as queer as Dick's hatband — went thrice aboot, an' 
wudn't tie. His wife Mabel war a delicat* boddie, 
an' varry flighty. Thay war an honest family, but 
sair hadden doon i' th' world." Indeed, the 
earnings of old Robert did not amount to more 
than twelve shillings a week ; and, as there were 
six children to maintain, the family, during their 
stay at Wylam, were necessarily in very straitened 
circumstances. The father's wages being barely 
sufficient, even with the most rigid economy, for 
the sustenance of the household, there was little to 
spare for clothing, and nothing for education, so 
none of the children were sent to school. 

Old Robert was a general favourite in the 
village, especially amongst the children, whom he 
was accustomed to draw about him whilst tending 
the engine-fire, and feast their young imaginations 
with tales of Sinbad the Sailor and Robinson 
Crusoe, besides others of his own invention; so 
that "Bob's engine-fire" came to be the most 
popular resort in the village. Another feature in 
his character, by which he was long remembered, 
was his affection for birds and animals ; and he had 
many tame favourites of both sorts, which were 
as fond of resorting to his engine-fire as the boys 
and girls themselves. In the winter time he had 
usually a flock of tame robins about him ; and they 
would come hopping familiarly to his feet to pick 
up the crumbs which he had saved for them out of 
his humble dinner. At his cottage he was rarely 
without one or more tame blackbirds, which flew 
about the house, or in and out at the door. In 
summer time he would go a-birdnesting with his 
v. c 


children ; and one day he took his little son George 
to see a blackbird's nest for the first time. Holding 
him up in his arms, he let the wondering boy peep 
down, through the branches held aside for the 
purpose, into a nest full of young birds — a sight 
which the boy never forgot, but used to speak of 
with delight to his intimate friends when he him- 
self had grown an old man. 

The boy George led the ordinary life of working- 
people's children. He played about the doors; 
went birdnesting when he could; and ran errands 
to the village. He was also an eager listener, with 
the other children, to his father's curious tales ; and 
he early imbibed from him that affection for birds 
and animals which continued throughout his life. 
In course of time he was promoted to the office of 
carrying his father's dinner to him while at work, 
and it was on such occasions his great delight to see 
the robins fed. At home he helped to nurse, and 
that with a careful hand, his younger brothers and 
sisters. One of his duties was to see that the other 
children were kept out of the way of the chaldron 
waggons, which were then dragged by horses along 
the wooden tramroad immediately in front of the 
cottage-door. This waggon-way was the first in 
the northern district on which the experiment of a 
locomotive engine was tried. But at the time of 
which we speak, the locomotive had scarcely been 
dreamt of in England as a practicable working 
power ; horses only were used to haul the coal ; 
and one of the first sights with which the boy was 
familiar was the coal-waggons dragged by them 
along the wooden railway at Wylam. 

Thus eight years passed ; after which, the coal 
having been worked out, the old engine, which had 


grown " dismal to look at," as one of the workmen 
described it, was pulled down ; and then Robert, 
having obtained employment as a fireman at the 
Dewley Bum Colliery, removed with his family to 
that place. Dewley Burn, at this day, consists of a 
few old-fashioned low-roofed cottages standing on 
either side of a babbling little stream. They are 
connected by a rustic wooden bridge, which spans 
the rift in front of the doors. In the central one- 
roomed cottage of this group, on the right bank, 
Robert Stephenson lived for a time with his family ; 
the pit at which he worked standing in the rear of 
the cottages. 

Young though he was, George was now of an 
age to be able to contribute something towards the 
family maintenance; for in a poor man's house, 
every child is a burden until his little hands can 
be turned to profitable account. That the boy was 
shrewd and active, and possessed of a ready mother 
wit, will be evident enough from the following 
incident. One day his sister Nell went into New- 
castle to buy a bonnet ; and Geordie went with her 
"for company." At a draper's shop in the Bigg 
Market, Nell found a "chip" quite to her mind, but 
on pricing it, alas ! it was found to be fifteen pence 
beyond her means, and she left the shop very much 
disappointed. But Geordie said, "Never heed, 
Nell; see if I canna win siller enough to buy the 
bonnet; stand ye there till I come back." Away 
ran the boy and disappeared amidst the throng of 
the market, leaving the girl to wait his return. 
Long and long she waited, until it grew dusk, and 
the market people had nearly all left. She had 
begun to despair, and fears crossed her mind that 
Geordie must have been run over and killed ; when 

c 2 


at last up he came running, almost breathless. 
" IVe gotten the siller for the bonnet, Nell ! " cried 
he. "Eh, Geordie!" she said, "but hoo hae ye 
gotten it ? " " Haudin the gentlemen's horses ! " was 
the exultant reply. The bonnet was forthwith 
bought, and the two returned to Dewley happy. 

George's first regular employment was of a very 
humble sort. A widow, named Grace Ainslie, then 
occupied the neighbouring farmhouse of Dewley. 
She kept a number of cows, and had the privilege of 
grazing them along the waggon-road. She needed 
a boy to herd the cows, to keep them out of the 
way of the waggons, and prevent their straying or 
trespassing on the neighbours' " liberties " ; the boy's 
duty was also to bar the gates at night after all the 
waggons had passed. George petitioned for this 
post, and to his great joy, he was appointed at the 
wage of twopence a day. 

It was light employment, and he had plenty of 
spare time on his hands, which he spent in bird- 
nesting, making whistles out of reeds and scrannel 
straws, and erecting Lilliputian mills in the little 
water-streams that ran into the Dewley bog. But his 
favourite amusement at this early age was erecting 
clay engines in conjunction with his chosen playmate. 
Bill Thirlwall. The place is still pointed out where 
the future engineers made their first essays in 
modelling. The boys found the clay for their 
engines in the adjoining bog, and the hemlocks which 
grew about supplied them with imaginary steam- 
pipes. They even proceeded to make a miniature 
winding-machine in connexion with their engine, and 
the apparatus was erected upon a bench in front of 
the Thirlwalls' cottage. The corves were made out 
of hollowed corks ; the ropes were supplied by twine ; 


and a few bits of wood gleaned from the refuse 
of the carpenter's shop completed their materials. 
With this apparatus the boys made a show of sending 
the corves down the pit and drawing them up again, 
much to the marvel of the pitmen. But some mis- 
chievous person about the place seized the oppor- 
tunity early one morning of smashing the fragile 
machinery, much to the grief of the young 

As Stephenson grew older and abler to work, he 
was set to lead the horses when ploughing, though 
scarce big enough to stride across the furrows ; and 
he used afterwards to say that he rode to his work 
in the mornings at an hour when most other 
children of his age were asleep in their beds. He 
was also employed to hoe turnips, and do similar 
farm-work, for which he was paid the advanced wage 
of fourpence a day. But his highest ambition was 
to be taken on at the colliery where his father 
worked ; and he shortly joined his elder brother 
James there as a " corf-bitter," or " picker," to clear 
the coal of stones, bats, and dross. His wages were 
then advanced to sixpence a day, and afterwards 
to eightpence when he was set to drive the gin- 

Shortly after, George went to Black Callerton to 
drive the gin there ; and as that colliery lies about 
two miles across the fields from Dewley Bum, he 
walked that distance early in the morning to his 
work, returning home late in the evening. One of 
the old residents at Black Callerton, who re- 
membered him at that time, described him to the 
author as " a grit growing lad, with bare legs an' 
feet " ; adding that he was " very quick-witted and 
full of fun and tricks : indeed, there was nothing 


under the sun but he tried to imitate." He was 
usually foremost also in the sports and pastimes of 

Among his first strongly-developed tastes was the 
love of birds and animals, which he inherited from 
his father. Blackbirds were his special favourites. 
The hedges between Dewley and Black Callerton 
were capital birdnesting places ; and there was not 
a nest there that he did not know of. When the 
young birds were old enough, he would bring them 
home with him, feed them, and teach them to fly 
about the cottage unconfined by cages. One of his 
blackbirds became so tame, that, after flying about 
the doors all day, and in and out of the cottage, it 
would take up its roost upon the bed-head at night. 
And most singular of all, the bird would disappear 
in the spring and summer months, when it was sup- 
posed to go into the woods to pair and rear its 
young, after which it would reappear at the cottage, 
and resume its social habits during the winter. 
This went on for several years. George had also 
a stock of tame rabbits, for which he built a little 
house behind the cottage, and for many years he 
continued to pride himself upon the superiority of 
his breed. 

After he had driven the gin for some time at 
Dewley and Black Callerton, he was taken on as an 
assistant to his father in firing the engine at Dewley. 
This was a step of promotion which he had anxiously 
desired, his only fear being lest he should be found 
too young for the work. Indeed, he used afterwards 
to relate how he was wont to hide himself when the 
owner of the colliery went round, in case he should 
be thought too little a boy to earn the wages paid 
him. Since he had modelled his clay engines in 



the bog, his young ambition was to be an engineman ; 
and to be an assistant-fireman was the first step to- 
wards this position. Great therefore was his joy 
when, at about fourteen years of age, he was appointed 
assistant-fireman, at the wage of a shilling a day. 

Newburn on the Tync. 

But the coal at Dewley Burn being at length 
worked out, the pit was ordered to be " laid in," and 
old Robert and his family were again under the 
necessity of shifting their home ; for, to use the 
common phrase, they must '* follow the wark." 
They removed accordingly to a place called Jolly's 


Close, a few miles to the south, close behind the 
village of Newburn, where another coal-mine 
belonging to the Duke of Northumberland, called 
" the Duke's Winnin," had recently been opened 

One of the old persons in the neighbourhood, 
who knew the family well, describes the dwelling 
in which they lived as a poor cottage of only one 
room, in which the father, mother, four sons, and 
two daughters, lived and slept. It was crowded 
with three low-poled beds. The ohe apartment 
served for parlour, kitchen, sleeping-room, and all. 

The children of the Stephenson family were 
now growing apace, and several of them were old 
enough to be able to earn money at various kinds 
of colliery work. James and George, the two eldest 
sons, worked as assistant-firemen ; and the younger 
boys worked as wheelers or pickers on the bank- 
tops. The two girls helped their mother with the 
household work. 

Other workings of the coal were opened out in 
the neighbourhood; and to one of these George 
was removed as fireman on his own account. This 
was called the '* Mid Mill Winnin," where he had 
for his mate a young man named Coe. They 
worked together there for about two years, by 
twelve-hour shifts, George firing the engine at the 
wage of a shilling a day. He was now fifteen years 
old. His ambition was as yet limited to attaining 
the standing of a full workman, at a man's wages ; 
and with that view he endeavoured to attain such a 
knowledge of his engine as would eventually lead 
to his employment as an engineman, with its 
accompanying advantage of higher pay. He was 
a steady, sober, hard-working young man, but 


nothing more in the estimation of his fellow- 

One of his favourite pastimes in by-hours was 
trying feats of strength with his companions. 
Although in frame he was not particularly robust, 
yet he was big and bony, and considered very 
strong for his age. At throwing the hammer 
George had no compeer. At lifting heavy weights 
oflF the ground from between his feet, by means of a 
bar of iron passed through them — placing the Bar 
against his knees as a fulcrum, and then straighten- 
ing his spine and lifting them sheer up — he was also 
very successful. On one occasion he lifted as much 
as sixty stones weight — a striking indication of his 
strength of bone and muscle. 

When the pit at Mid Mill was closed, George 
and his companion Coe were sent to work another 
pumping-engine erected near Throckley Bridge, 
where they continued for some months. It was 
while working at this place that his wages were 
raised to 125. a week — an event to him of great 
importance. On coming out of the foreman's office 
that Saturday evening on which he received the 
advance, he announced the fact to his fellow- 
workmen, adding triumphantly, " I am now a made 
man for life ! " 

The pit opened at Newburn, at which old 
Robert Stephenson worked, proving a failure, it 
was closed ; and a new pit was sunk at Water-row, 
on a strip of land lying between the Wylam 
waggon-way and the river Tyne, about half a mile 
west of Newburn Church. A pumping-engine was 
erected there by Robert Hawthorn, the Duke's 
engineer ; and old Stephenson went to work it as 
fireman, his son George acting as the engineman or 


plugman. At that time he was about seventeen 
years old — a very youthful age at which to fill so 
responsible a post. He had thus already got ahead 
of his father in his station as a workman ; for the 
plugman holds a higher grade than the fireman, 
requiring more practical knowledge and skill, and 
usually receiving higher wages. 

George's duty as plugman was to watch the 
engine, to see that it kept well in work, and that the 
pumps were efficient in drawing the water. When 
the water-level in the pit was lowered, and the 
suction became incomplete through the exposure 
of the suction-holes, it was then his duty to proceed 
to the bottom of the shaft and plug the tube so that 
the pump should draw: hence the designation 
of " plugman." If a stoppage in the engine took 
place through any defect which he was incapable 
of remedying, it was for him to call in the aid of the 
chief engineer to set it to rights. 

But from the time when George Stephenson was 
appointed fireman, and more particularly afterwards 
as engineman, he applied himself so assiduously 
and so successfully to the study of the engine and 
its gearing — taking the machine to pieces in his 
leisure hours for the purpose of cleaning and 
understanding its various parts — that he soon 
acquired a thorough practical knowledge of its 
construction and mode of working, and very rarely 
needed to call the engineer of the colliery to his 
aid. His engine became a sort of pet with him, and 
he was never wearied of watching and inspecting 
it with admiration. 

Though eighteen years old, like many of his 
fellow-workmen, Stephenson had not yet learnt 
to read. All that he could do was to get some one 


to read for him by his engine fire, out of any book 
or stray newspaper which found its way into the 
neighbourhood. Buonaparte was then overrunning 
Italy, and astounding Europe by his brilliant 
succession of victories; and there was no more 
eager auditor of his exploits, as read from the 
newspaper accounts, than the young engine man at 
the Water-row Pit. 

There were also numerous stray bits of informa- 
tion and intelligence contained in these papers, 
which excited Stephenson's interest. One of these 
related to the Egyptian method of hatching birds' 
eggs by means of artificial heat. Curious about 
everything relating to birds, he determined to test 
it by experiment. It was spring time, and he 
forthwith went a-birdnesting in the adjoining woods 
and hedges. He gathered a collection of eggs of 
various sorts, set them in flour in a warm place 
in the engine-house, covering the whole with wool, 
and then waited the issue. The heat was kept as 
steady as possible, and the eggs were carefully 
turned every twelve hours, but though they 
chipped, and some of them exhibited well-grown 
chicks, they never hatched. The experiment failed, 
but the incident shows that the inquiring mind of 
the youth was fairly at work. 

Modelling of engines in clay continued to be 
another of his favourite occupations. He made 
models of engines which he had seen, and of others 
which were described to him. These attempts were 
an improvement upon his first trials at Dewley 
Burn bog, when occupied there as a herd-boy. 
He was, however, anxious to know something of 
the wonderful engines of Boulton and Watt, and 
was told that they were to be found fully described 


in books, which he must search for information 
as to their construction, action, and uses. But, alas ! 
Stephenson could not read ; he had not yet learnt 
even his letters. 

Thus he shortly found, when gazing wistfully 
in the direction of knowledge, that to advance 
further as a skilled workmen, he must master this 
wonderful art of reading — the key to so many other 
arts. Only thus could he gain an access to books, 
the depositories of the wisdom and experience of 
the past. Although a grown man, and doing the 
work of a man, he was not ashamed to confess his 
ignorance, and go to school, big as he was, to learn 
his letters.. Perhaps, too, he foresaw that, in laying 
out a little of his spare earnings for this purpose, 
he was investing money judiciously, and that, in 
every hour he spent at school, he was really working 
for better wages. 

His first schoolmaster was Robin Cowens, a 
poor teacher in the village of Walbottle. He 
kept a night-school, which was attended by a few 
of the colliers and labourers' sons in the neigh- 
bourhood. George took lessons in spelling and 
reading three nights in the week. Robin Cowens's 
teaching cost threepence a week; and though it 
was not very good, yet George, being hungry for 
knowledge and eager to acquire it, soon learnt to 
read. He also practised "pot-hooks," and at the 
age of nineteen he was proud to be able to write his 
own name. 

A Scotch dominie, named Andrew Robertson, 
set up a night-school in the village of Newburn, 
in the winter of 1799. It was more convenient for 
George to attend this school, as it was nearer to 
his work, and only a few minutes' walk from Jolly's 


Close. Besides, Andrew had the reputation of 
being a skilled arithmetician ; and this branch 
of knowledge Stephenson was very desirous of 
acquiring. He accordingly began taking lessons 
from him, paying fourpence a week. Robert Gray, 
the junior fireman at the Water-row Pit, began 
arithmetic at the same time ; and Gray afterwards 
told the author that George learnt " figuring " so 
much faster than he did, that he could not make out 
how it was — ** he took to figures so wonderful." 
Although the two started together from the same 
point, at the end of the winter George had mastered 
" reduction," while Robert Gray was still struggling 
with the difficulties of simple division. But 
George's secret was his perseverance. He worked 
out the sums in his bye-hours, improving every 
minute of his spare time by the engine-fire, and 
studying there the arithmetical problems set for him 
upon his slate by the master. In the evenings he 
took to Robertson the sums which he had " worked," 
and new ones were " set " for him to study out 
the following day. Thus his progress was rapid, 
and, with a willing heart and mind, he soon 
became well advanced in arithmetic. Indeed, 
Andrew Robertson became very proud of his 
scholar; and shortly after, when the Water-row 
Pit was closed, and George removed to Black 
Callerton to work there, the poor schoolmaster, 
not having a very extensive connexion in New- 
bum, went with his pupils, and set up his night- 
school at Black Callerton, where he continued his 

George still found time to attend to his favourite 
animals while working at the Water-row Pit. Like 
his father, he used to tempt the robin-redbreasts 

30 HIS DOG [chap II 

to hop and fly about him at the engine-fire, by the 
bait of bread-crumbs saved from his dinner. But 
his chief favourite was his dog — so sagacious that 
he almost daily carried George's dinner to him at 
the pit. The tin containing the meal was suspended 
from the dog's neck, and, thus laden, he proceeded 
faithfully from Jolly's Close to Water-row Pit, quite 
through the village of Newburn. He turned 
neither to left nor right, nor heeded the barking of 
curs at his heels. But his course was not un- 
attended with perils. One day the big strange 
dog of a passing butcher, espying the engineman's 
messenger with the tin can about his neck, ran 
after and fell upon him. There was a terrible 
tussle and worrying, which lasted for a brief while, 
and, shortly after, the dog's master, anxious for his 
dinner, saw his faithful servant approaching, 
bleeding but triumphant. The tin can was still 
round his neck, but the dinner had been spilt 
in the struggle. Though George went with- 
out his dinner that day, he was prouder of his 
dog than ever when the circumstances of the 
combat were related to him by the villagers who 
had seen it. 

It was while working at the Water-row Pit that 
Stephenson learnt the art of brakeing an engine. 
This being one of the higher departments of colliery 
labour, and among the best paid, George was very 
anxious to learn it. A small winding-engine having 
been put up for the purpose of drawing the coal 
from the pit. Bill Coe, his friend and fellow-work- 
man, was appointed the brakesman. He frequently 
allowed George to try his hand at the machine, and 
instructed him how to proceed. Coe was, however, 
opposed in this by several of the other workmen — 


one of whom, a banksman named William Locke,* 
went so far as to stop the working of the pit because 
3tephenson had been called in to the brake. But 
one day as Mr. Charles Nixon, the manager of the 
pit, was observed approaching, Coe adopted an 
expedient which put a stop to the opposition. He 
called upon Stephenson to " come into the brake- 
house, and take hold of the machine." Locke, as usual, 
sat down, and the working of the pit was stopped. 
When requested by the manager to give an explana- 
tion, he said that " young Stephenson couldn't brake, 
and, what was more, never would learn, he was so 
clumsy." Mr. Nixon, however, ordered Locke to go 
on with the work, which he did; and Stephenson, after 
some further practice, acquired the art of brakeing. 

After working at the Water-row Pit and at other 
engines near Newburn for about three years, George 
and Coe went to Black Callerton early in 1801. 
Though only twenty years of age, his employers 
thought so well of him that they appointed him 
to the responsible office of brakesman at the Dolly 
Pit. For convenience* sake, he took lodgings at a 
small farmer's in the village, finding his own victuals, 
and paying so much a week for lodging and 
attendance. In the locality this was called " picklin 
in his awn poke neuk." It not unfrequently 
happens that the young workman about the 
collieries, when selecting a lodging, contrives to 
pitch his tent where the daughter of the house 
ultimately becomes his wife. This is often the real 
attraction that draws the youth from home, though 
a very different one may be pretended. 

* Father of Mr. Locke, M.P., the engineer. He afterwards 
removed to Bamsley, in Yorkshire. 


George Stephenson's duties as brakesman may 
be briefly described. The work was somewhat 
monotonous, and consisted in superintending the 
working of the engine and machinery by means 
of which the coals were drawn out of the pit 
Brakesmen are almost invariably selected from 
those who have had considerable experience as 
engine-firemen, and borne a good character for 
steadiness, punctuality, watchfulness and "mother 
wit." In George Stephenson's^ day the coals were 
drawn out of the pit in corves, or large baskets made 
of hazel rods. The corves were placed together in 
a cage, between which and the pit-ropes there was 
usually from fifteen to twenty feet of chain. The 
approach of the corves towards the pit mouth was 
signalled by a bell, brought into action by a piece 
of mechanism worked from the shaft of the engine. 
When the bell sounded, the brakesman checked 
the speed, by taking hold of the hand-gear connected 
with the steam-valves, which were so arranged that 
by their means he could regulate the speed of the 
engine, and stop or set it in motion when required. 
Connected with the fly-wheel was a powerful 
wooden brake, acting bj"- pressure against its rim, 
something like the brake of a railway-carriage 
against its wheels. On catching sight of the chain 
attached to the ascending corve-cage, the brakes- 
man, by pressing his foot upon a foot-step near him, 
was enabled, with great precision, to stop the revo- 
lutions of the wheel, and arrest the ascent of the 
corves at the pit mouth, when they were forthwith 
landed on the "settle board." On the full corves 
being replaced by empty ones, it was then the duty 
of the brakesman to reverse the engine, and send 
the corves down the pit to be filled again. 


The monotony of George Stephenson's occu- 
pation as a brakesman was somewhat varied by 
the change which he made, in his turn, from the 
day to the night shift. His duty, on the latter 
occasions, consisted chiefly in sending men and 
materials into the mine, and in drawing other men 
and materials out. Most of the workmen enter 
the pit during the night shift, and leave it in the 
latter part of the day, whilst coal-drawing is 
proceeding. The requirements of the work at 
night are such, that the brakesman has a good 
deal of spare time on his hands, which he is at 
liberty to employ in his own way. From an early 
period, George was accustomed to employ those 
vacant night hours in working the sums set for him 
by Andrew Robertson upon his slate, practising 
writing in his copy-book, and mending the ohoes 
of his fellow-workmen. His wages while working 
at the Dolly Pit amounted to from i/. 15s. to 2/. in 
the fortnight; but he gradually added to them as 
he became more expert at shoe-mending, and after- 
wards at shoe-making. 

Probably he was stimulated to take in hand this 
extra work by the attachment he had by this time 
formed for a young woman named Fanny Hender- 
son, who officiated as servant in the small farmer's 
house in which he lodged. We have been in- 
formed that the personal attractions of Fanny, 
though these were considerable, were the least 
of her charms. Mr. William Fairbairn, who after- 
wards saw her in her home at Willington Quay, 
describes her as a very comely woman. But 
her temper was one of the sweetest ; and those 
who knew her were accustomed to speak of 
the charming modesty of her demeanour, her 


kindness of disposition, and withal her sound good 

Amongst his various mendings of old shoes at 
Callerton, George was on one occasion favoured 
with the shoes of his sweetheart to sole. One can 
imagine the pleasure with which he would linger 
over such a piece of work, and the pride with which 
he would execute it. A friend of his, still living, 
relates that, after he had finished the shoes, he 
carried them about with him in his pocket on the 
Sunday afternoon, and that from time to time he 
would pull them out and hold them up, exclaiming, 
" what a capital job he had made of them ! " 

Out of his earnings by shoe-mending at Caller- 
ton, George contrived to save his first guinea. The 
first guinea saved by a working man is no trivial 
thing. If, as in Stephenson's case, it has been the 
result of prudent self-denial, of extra labour at 
bye-hours, and of the honest resolution to save 
and economise for worthy purposes, the first 
guinea saved is an earnest of better things. When 
Stephenson had saved this guinea he was not a little 
elated at the achievement, and expressed the opinion 
to a friend, who many years after reminded him 
of it, that he was " now a rich man." 

Not long after he began to work at Black 
Callerton as brakesman, he had a quarrel with a 
pitman named Ned Nelson, a roistering bully, who 
was the terror of the village. Nelson was a great 
fighter ; and it was therefore considered dangerous 
to quarrel with him. Stephenson was so unfor- 
tunate as not to be able to please this pitman 
by the way in which he drew him out of the pit ; 
and Nelson swore at him grossly because of the 
alleged clum$ine$s of his brakeing. George defended 


himself, and appealed to the testimony of the other 
workmen. But Nelson had not been accustomed 
to George's style of self-assertion ; and, after 
a great deal of abuse, he threatened to kick the 
brakesman, who defied him to do so. Nelson 
ended by challenging Stephenson to a pitched 
battle; and the latter accepted the challenge, 
when a day was fixed on which the fight was 
to come off. 

Great was the excitement at Black Callerton 
when it was known that George Stephenson had 
accepted Nelson's challenge. Everybody said he 
would be killed. The villagers, the young men, 
and especially the boys of the place, with whom 
George was a great favourite, all wished that he 
might beat Nelson, but they scarcely dared to say 
so. They came about him while he was at work 
in the engine-house* to inquire if it was really true 
that he was "goin* to fight Nelson?" '*Ay; 
never fear for me; Fll fight him." And fight him he 
did. For some days previous to the appointed day 
of battle, Nelson went entirely off work for the 
purpose of keeping himself fresh and strong, where- 
as Stephenson went on doing his daily work as 
usual, and appeared not in the least disconcerted 
by the prospect of the affair. So, on the evening 
appointed, after George had done his day's labour, 
he went into the Dolly Pit Field, where his already 
exulting rival was ready to meet him. George 
stripped, and " went in " like a practised pugilist — 
though it was his first and last fight. After a few 
rounds, George's wiry muscles and practised 
strength enabled him severely to punish his adver- 
sary, and to secure an easy victory. 

This circumstance is related in illustration of 

D 2 



[chap II 

Stephenson's personal pluck and courage ; and it 
was thoroughly characteristic of the man. He was 
no pugilist, and the very reverse of quarrelsome. But 
he would not be put down by the bully of the 
colHery, and he fought him. There his pugilism 
ended; they afterwards shook hands, and con- 
tinued good friends. In after life, Stephenson's 
mettle was often as hardly tried, though in a 
different way ; and he did not fail to exhibit the 
same resolute courage in contending with the 
bullies of the railway world, as he showed in his 
encounter with Ned Nelson, the fighting pitman of 

Colliery Whimsey. 

Stephenson's Cottage at Willington Quay. 



George Stephenson had now acquired the character 
of an expert workman. He was diligent and ob- 
servant while at work, and sober and studious when 
the day's work was over. His friend Coe described 
him to the author as " a standing example of manly 
character." On pay-Saturday afternoons, when the 
pitmen held their fortnightly holiday, occupying 
themselves chiefly in cock-fighting and dog-fighting 
in the adjoining fields, followed by adjournments to 
the ** yel-house " George was accustomed to take his 


engine to pieces, for the purpose of obtaining 
" insight," and he cleaned all the parts and put 
the machine in thorough working order before 
leaving it. 

In the evenings he improved himself in the arts 
of reading and writing, and occasionally took a turn 
at modelling. It was at Callerton, his son Robert 
informed us, that he began to try his hand at original 
invention ; and for some time he applied his attention 
to a machine of the nature of an engine-brake, which 
reversed itself by its own action. But nothing came 
of the contrivance, and it was eventually thrown 
aside as useless. Yet not altogether so ; for even 
the highest skill must undergo the inevitable dis- 
cipline ot experiment, and submit to the wholesome 
correction of occasional failure. 

After working at Callerton for about two years, 
he received an offer to take charge of the engine on 
Willington Ballast Hill at an advanced wage. He 
determined to accept it, and at- the same time to 
marry Fanny Henderson, and begin housekeeping 
on his own account. Though he was only twenty- 
one years old, he had contrived, by thrift, steadiness, 
and industry, to save as much money as enabled him 
to take a cottage-dwelling at Willington Quay, and 
furnish it in a humble but comfortable style for the 
reception of his bride. 

Willington Quay lies on the north bank of the 
Tyne, about six miles below Newcastle. It consists 
of a line of houses straggling along the river-side ; 
and high behind it towers up the huge mound of 
ballast emptied out of the ships which resort to 
the quay for their cargoes of coal for the London 
market. The ballast is thrown out of the ships 
holds into waggons laid alongside, which are run up 

CHAP III] Stephenson's marriage 39 

to the summit of the Ballast Hill, and emptied out 
there. At the foot of the great mound of shot 
rubbish was the fixed engine of which George 
Stephenson acted as brakesman. 

The cottage in which he took up his abode was 
a small two-storied dwelling, standing a little back 
from the quay with a bit of garden ground in 
front* The Stephenson family occupied the upper 
room in the west end of the cottage. Close behind 
rose the Ballast Hill. 

When the cottage dwelling had been made snug, 
and was ready for occupation, the marriage took 
place. It was celebrated in Newburn Church, on 
the 28th of November, 1802. After the ceremony, 
George, with his newly-wedded wife, proceeded to 
the house of his father at Jolly's Close. The old 
man was now becoming infirm, and, though he still 
worked as an engine-fireman, contrived with difficulty 
*'to keep his head above water." When the visit 
had been paid, the bridal party set out for their new 
home at Willington Quay, whither they went in a 
manner quite common before travelling by railway 
came into use. Two farm horses, borrowed from a 
neighbouring farmer, were each provided with a 
saddle and pillion, and George having mounted one, 
his wife seated herself behind him, holding on by his 
waist. The bridesman and bridesmaid in like manner 
mounted the other horse ; and in this wise the wed- 
ding party rode across the country, passing through 
the old streets of Newcastle, and then by Wallsend 
to Willington Quay — a ride of about fifteen miles. 

George Stephenson's daily life at Willington was 

* The Stephenson Memorial Schools have since been erected 
on the site of the old cottage at Willington Quay represented in the 
engraving at the head of this chapter. 

40 Stephenson's marriage [chap hi 

that of a steady workman. By the manner, however, 
in which he continued to improve his spare hours 
in the evening, he was silently and surely paving- 
the way for being something more than a manual 
labourer. He set himself to study diligently the 
principles of mechanics, and to master the laws 
by which his engine worked. For a workman, he 
was even at that time more than ordinarily specu- 
lative — often taking up strange theories, and trying 
to sift out the truth that was in them. While sitting 
by his wife's side in his cottage-dwelling in the 
winter evenings, he was usually occupied in studying 
mechanical subjects, or in modelling experimental 
machines. Amongst his various speculations while 
at Willington, he tried to discover a means of 
Perpetual Motion. Although he failed, as so many 
others had done before him, the very efforts he made 
tended to whet his inventive faculties, and to call 
forth his dormant powers. He went so far as to 
construct the model of a machine for the purpose. It 
consisted of a wooden wheel, the periphery of which 
was furnished with glass tubes filled with quick- 
silver ; as the wheel rotated, the quicksilver poured 
itself down into the lower tubes, and thus a sort 
of self-acting motion was kept up in the apparatus, 
which, however, did not prove to be perpetual. 
Where he had first obtained the idea of this machine 
— whether from conversation or reading, is not 
known ; but his son Robert was of opinion that he 
had heard of the apparatus of this kind described in 
the ' History of Inventions.* As he had then no 
access to books, and indeed could barely read with 
ease, it is probable that he had been told of the con- 
trivance, and set about testing its value according to 
his own methods. 


Much of his spare time continued to be occupied 
by labour more immediately profitable, regarded in 
a pecuniary point of view. In the evenings, after his 
day's labour at his engine, he would occasionally 
employ himself for an hour or two in casting ballast 
out of the collier ships, by which means he was en- 
abled to earn a few extra shillings weekly. Mr. 
William Fairbairn of Manchester has informed us 
that while Stephenson was employed at Willington, 
he himself was working in the neighbourhood as an 
engine apprentice at the Percy Main Colliery. He 
was very fond of George, who was a fine, hearty 
fellow, besides being a capital workman. In the 
summer evenings young Fairbairn was accustomed 
to go down to the Quay to see his friend, and on 
such occasions he would frequently take charge of 
George's engine while he took a turn at heaving 
ballast out of the ships* holds. It is pleasant to think 
of the future President of the British Association 
thus helping the future Railway Engineer to earn 
a few extra shillings by overwork in the evenings, 
at a time when both occupied the rank of humble 
working men in an obscure northern village. 

Mr. Fairbairn was also a frequent visitor at 
George's cottage on the Quay, where, though there 
was no luxury, there was comfort, cleanliness, and 
a pervading spirit of industry. Even at home 
George was never for a moment idle. When there 
was no ballast to heave out at the Quay he took in 
shoes to mend ; and from mending he proceeded to 
making them, as well as shoe-lasts, in which he was 
admitted to be very expert. 

But an accident occurred in Stephenson's house- 
hold about this time which had the effect of direct- 
ing his industry into a new and still more profitable 


channel. The cottage chimney took fire one day in 
his absence, when the alarmed neighbours, rushing 
in, threw quantities of water upon the flames ; and 
some, in their zeal, even mounted the ridge of the 
house, and poured buckets of water down the chim- 
ney. The fire was soon put out, but the house was 
thoroughly soaked. When George came home he 
found everything in disorder, and his new furniture 
covered with soot. The eight-day clock, which 
hung against the wall — one of the most highly- 
prized articles in the house — was much damaged by 
the steam with which the room had been filled ; and 
its wheels were so clogged by the dust and soot 
that it was brought to a complete standstill. George 
was always ready to turn his hand to anything, and 
his ingenuity, never at fault, immediately set to 
work to repair the unfortunate clock. He was 
advised to send it to the clockmaker, but that would 
cost money ; and he declared that he would repair it 
himself — at least he would try. The clock was accord- 
ingly taken to pieces and cleaned ; the tools which 
he had been accumulating for the purpose of con- 
structing his Perpetual Motion machine, enabled him 
to do this readily ; and he succeeded so well that, 
shortly after, the neighbours sent him their clocks 
to clean, and he soon became one of the most 
famous clock-doctors in the neighbourhood. 

It was while living at Willington Quay that 
George Stephenson's only son was born, on the 
1 6th of October, 1803. The child was a great 
favourite with his father, and added much to the 
happiness of his evening hours. George's '* philo- 
progenitiveness," as phrenologists call it, had been 
exercised hitherto upon birds, dogs, rabbits, and 
even the poor old gin-horses which he had driven at 



the Callerton Pit ; but in his boy he now found a much 
more genial object for the exercise of his affection. 

The christening took place in the school-house 
at Wallsend, the old parish church being at the time 
in so dilapidated a condition from the " creeping " or 
subsidence of the ground, consequent upon the 
excavation of the coal, that it was considered 

West Moor Colliery. 

dangerous to enter it. On this occasion, Robert 
Gray and Anne Henderson, who had officiated as 
bridesman and bridesmaid at the wedding, came 
over again to Willington, and stood godfather and 
godmother to little Robert, — so named after his 

After working for several years more as a 
brakesman at the Willington machine, George 


Stephenson was induced to leave his situation there 
for a similar one at the West Moor. Colliery, 
Killingworth. It was not without considerable 
persuasion that he was induced to leave the Quay, 
as he knew that he should thereby give up the 
chance of earning extra money by casting ballast 
from the keels. At last, however, he consented, in 
the hope of making up the loss in some other way. 

The village of Killingworth lies about seven 
miles north of Newcastle, and is one of the best- 
known collieries in that neighbourhood. The work- 
ings of the coal are of vast extent, and give employ- 
ment to a large number of workpeople. To this 
place Stephenson first came as a brakesman about 
the beginning of 1805. He had not been long in his 
new place, ere his wife died (in 1806), shortly after 
giving birth to a daughter, who survived the mother 
only a few months. George deeply felt the loss of 
his wife, for they had been very happy together. 
Their lot had been sweetened by daily successful 
toil. The husband was sober and hard-working, 
and his wife made his hearth so bright and his home 
so snug, that no attraction could draw him from her 
side in the evening hours. But this domestic happi- 
ness was all to pass away ; and George felt as one 
that had thenceforth to tread the journey of life 

Shortly after this event, while his grief was still 
fresh, he received an invitation from some gentlemen 
concerned in large spinning works near Montrose 
in Scotland, to proceed thither and superintend the 
working of one of Boulton and Watt's engines. He 
accepted the offer, and made arrangements to leave 
Killingworth for a time. 

Having left his little boy in good keeping, he set 


out upon his long journey to Scotland on foot, with 
his kit upon his back. While working at Montrose 
he gave a striking proof of that practical ability in 
contrivance for which he was afterwards so distin- 
guished. It appears that the water required for the 
purposes of his engine, as well as for the use of the 
works, was pumped from a considerable depth, being 
supplied from the adjacent extensive sand strata. 
The pumps frequently got choked by the sand 
drawn in at the bottom of the well through the 
snore-holes, or apertures through which the water 
to be raised is admitted. The barrels soon became 
worn, and the bucket and clack leathers destroyed, 
so that it became necessary to devise a remedy ; and 
with this object the engineman proceeded to adopt 
the following simple but original expedient. He had 
a wooden box or boot made, twelve feet high, which 
he placed in the sump or well, and into this he 
inserted the lower end of the pump. The result 
was, that the water flowed clear from the outer part 
of the well over into the boot, and being drawn up 
without any admixture of sand, the difficulty was 
thus conquered.* 

Being paid good wages, Stephenson contrived, 
during the year he worked at Montrose, to save a 
sum of 28/., which he took back with him to Killing- 
worth. Longing to get back to his kindred, his 
heart yearning for the son whom he had left behind, 
our engineman took leave of his employers, and 

* This incident was related by Robert Stephenson during a 
voyage to the north of Scotland in 1857, when off Montrose, on 
board his yacht Titania; and the reminiscence was communicated 
to the author by the late Mr. William Kell of Gateshead, who was 
present, at Mr. Stephenson's request, as being worthy of insertion 
in his father's biography. 


trudged back to Northumberland on foot as he had 
gone. While on his journey southward he arrived 
late one evening, footsore and wearied, at the door 
of a small farmer's cottage, at which he knocked and 
requested shelter for the night. It was refused, and 
then he entreated that, being tired, and unable to 
proceed further, the farmer would permit him to lie 
down in the outhouse, for that a little clean straw- 
would serve him. The farmer's wife appeared at 
the door, looked at the traveller, then retiring with 
her husband, the two confabulated a little apart, and 
finally they invited Stephenson into the cottage. 
Always full of conversation and anecdote, he soon 
made himself at home in the farmer's family, and 
spent with them a few pleasant hours. He was 
hospitably entertained for the night, and when he 
left the cottage in the morning, he pressed them to 
make some charge for his lodging, but they refused 
to accept any recompense. They only asked him 
to remember them kindly, and if he ever came that 
way, to be sure and call again. Many years after, 
when Stephenson had become a thriving man, he 
did not forget the humble pair who had succoured 
and entertained him on his way ; he sought their 
cottage again, when age had silvered their hair ; 
and when he left tne aged couple, they may have 
been reminded of the old saying that we may some- 
times "entertain angels unawares." 

Reaching home, Stephenson found that his father 
had met with a serious accident at the Blucher Pit, 
which had reduced him to great distress and poverty. 
While engaged in the inside of an engine, making 
some repairs, a fellow workman accidentally let in 
the steam upon him. The blast struck him full in 
the face ; he was terribly scorched, and his eyesight 


was irretrievably lost. The helpless and infirm 
man had struggled for a time with poverty ; his 
sons who were at home, poor as himself, were little 
able to help him, while George was at a distance in 
Scotland. On his return, however, with his savings 
in his pocket, his first step was to pay oflF his father's 
debts, amounting to about 15/.; and shortly after 
he removed the aged pair from Jolly's Close to a 
comfortable cottage adjoining the tramroad near 
the West Moor at Killingworth, where the old man 
lived for many years, supported entirely by his son. 

Stephenson was again taken on as a brakesman 
at the West Moor Pit. He does not seem to have 
been very hopeful as to his prospects in life about 
this time (1807-8). Indeed the condition of the 
working class generally was very discouraging. 
England was engaged in a g^eat war, which pressed 
upon the industry, and severely tried the resources, 
of the country. There was a constant demand for 
men to fill the army. The working people were 
also liable to be pressed for the. navy or drawn for 
the militia; and though they could not fail to be 
discontented under such circumstances, they scarcely 
dared even to mutter their discontent to their 

Stephenson was drawn for the militia ; he must 
therefore either quit his work and go a-soldiering, 
or find a substitute. He adopted the latter course, 
and borrowed 6/., which, with the remainder of his 
savings, enabled him to provide a militiaman to 
serve in his stead. Thus the whole of his hard-won 
earnings were swept away at a stroke. He was 
almost in despair, and contemplated the idea of 
leaving the country, and emigrating to the United 
States, Although a voyage thither was then a 


much more formidable thing for a working man to 
accomplish than a voyage to Australia is now, he 
seriously entertained the project, and had all but 
made up his mind to go. His sister Ann, with her 
husband, emigrated about that time, but George 
could not raise the requisite money, and they 
departed without him. After all, it went sore 
against his heart to leave his home and his kindred, 
the scenes of his youth and the friends of his boy- 
hood ; and he struggled long with the idea, brooding 
over it in sorrow. Speaking afterwards to a friend 
of his thoughts at the time, he said : " You know 
the road from my house at the West Moor to 
Killingworth. I remember once when I went along 
that road I wept bitterly, for I knew not where my 
lot in life would be cast." 

In 1808, Stephenson, with two other brakesmen, 
took a small contract under the colliery lessees for 
brakeing the engines at the West Moor Pit. The 
brakesmen found the oil and tallow ; they divided 
the work amongst them, and were paid so much 
per score for their labour. It was the interest of 
the brakesmen to economise the working as much 
as possible, and George no sooner entered upon the 
contract than he proceeded to devise ways and 
means of making it " pay." He observed that the 
ropes which, at other pits in the neighbourhood, 
lasted about three months, at the West Moor Pit 
became worn out in about a month. He immediately 
set about ascertaining the cause of the defect ; and 
finding it to be occasioned by excessive friction, he 
proceeded, with the sanction of the head engine- 
wright and the colliery owners, to shift the pulley- 
wheels and re-arrange the gearing, which had the 
effect of greatly diminishing the tear and wear, 


besides allowing the work of the colliery to proceed 
without interruption. 

About the same time he attempted an improve- 
ment in the winding-engine which he worked, by 
placing a valve between the air-pump and condenser. 
This expedient, although it led to no practical result, 
showed that his mind was actively engaged in 
studying new mechanical adaptations. It continued 
to be his regular habit, on Saturdays, to take his 
engine to pieces, for the purpose, at the same 
time, of familiarising himself with its action, and of 
placing it in a state of thorough working order. By 
mastering its details, he was enabled, as opportunity 
occurred, to turn to practical account the knowledge 
he thus diligently and patiently acquired. 

Such an opportunity was not long in presenting 
itself. In the year 1810, a new pit was sunk by the 
"Grand Allies" (the lessees of the mines) at the 
village of Killingworth, now known as the Killing- 
worth High Pit. An atmospheric or Newcomen 
engine, made by Smeaton, was fixed there for the 
purpose of pumping out the water from the shaft ; 
but somehow it failed to clear the pit. As one of 
the workmen has since described the circumstance 
— " She couldn't keep her jack-head in water : all 
the enginemen in the neighbourhood were tried, as 
well as Crowther of the Ouseburn, but they were 
clean bet." The engine had been fruitlessly pumping 
for nearly twelve months, and began to be spoken 
of as a total failure. Stephenson had gone to look 
at it when in course of erection, and then observed 
to the over-man that bethought it was defective; he 
also gave it as his opinion that, if there were much 
water in the mine, the engine would never keep it 
under. Of course, as he was only a brakesman, his 

V. E 


opinion was considered to be worth very little on 
such a point. He continued, however, to make 
frequent visits to the engine, to see " how she was 
getting on." From the bank-head where he worked 
his brake he could see the chimney smoking at the 
High Pit ; and as the men were passing to and from 
their work, he would call out and enquire " if they 
had gotten to the bottom yet ? " And the reply was 
always to the same effect — the pumping made no 
progress, and the workmen were still "drowned 

One Saturday afternoon he went over to the 
High Pit to examine the engine more carefully than 
he had yet done. He had been turning the subject 
over thoughtfully in his mind ; and seemed to have 
satisfied himself as to the cause of the failure. Kit 
Heppel, one of the sinkers, asked him, "Weel, George, 
what do you mak* o' her ? Do you think you could do 
anything to improve her ? " Said George, " I could 
alter her, man, and make her draw : in a week's time 
I could send you to the bottom." 

Forthwith Heppel reported this conversation to 
Ralph Dodds, the head viewer, who, being now 
quite in despair, and hopeless of succeeding with 
the engine, determined to give George's skill a trial. 
At the worst he could only fail, as the rest had done. 
In the evening, Dodds went in search of Stephenson 
and met him on the road, dressed in his Sunday's 
suit, on the way to " the preaching " in the Methodist 
Chapel, which he attended. " Well, George," said 
Dodds, " they tell me that you think you can put 
the engine at the High Pit to rights." " Yes, sir," 
said George, " I think I could." " If that's the case, 
I'll give you a fair trial, and you must set to work 
immediately. We are clean drowned out, and 


cannot get a step further. The engineers hereabouts 
are all bet ; and if you really succeed in accomplish- 
ing what they cannot do, you may depend upon it 
I will make you a man for life." 

Stephenson began his operations early next 
morning. The only condition that he made, before 
setting to work, was that he should select his own 
workmen. There was, as he knew, a good deal 
of jealousy amongst the "regular" men that a 
colliery brakesman should pretend to know more 
about their engine than they themselves did, and 
attempt to remedy defects which the most skilled men 
of their craft, including the engineer of the colliery, 
had failed to do. But George made the condition 
a sine qua non. "The workmen," said he, "must 
either be all Whigs or all Tories." There was no 
help for it, so Dodds ordered the old hands to 
stand aside. The men grumbled, but gave way ; 
and then George and his party went in. 

The engine was taken entirel^^ to pieces. The 
cistern containing the injection water was raised 
ten feet ; the injection cock, being too small, was 
enlarged to nearly double its former size, and it 
was so arranged that it should be shut off quickly 
at the beginning of the stroke. These and other 
alterations were necessarily performed in a rough 
way, but, as the result proved, on true principles. 
Stephenson also, finding that the boiler would bear 
a greater pressure than five pounds to the inch, 
determined to work it at a pressure of ten pounds, 
though this was contrary to the directions of both 
Newcomen and Smeaton. The necessary alterations 
were made in about three days, and many persons 
came to see the engine start, including the men 
who had put her up. The pit being nearly full of 

E 2 


water, she had little to do on starting, and, to use 
George's words, **came bounce into the house." 
Dodds exclaimed, "Why, she was better as she 
was ; now, she will knock the Jiouse down." After 
a short time, however, the engine got fairly to 
work, and by ten o'clock that night the water was 
lower in the pit than it had ever been before. It 
was kept pumping all Thursday, and by the Friday 
afternoon the pit was cleared of water, and the 
workmen were "sent to the bottom," as Stephenson 
had promised. Thus the alterations effected in 
the pumping apparatus proved completely suc- 

Dodds was particularly gratified with the 
manner in which the job had been done, and he 
made Stephenson a present of ten pounds, which, 
though very inadequate when compared with the 
value of the work performed, was accepted with 
gratitude. George was proud of the gift as 
the first marked recognition of his skill as a 
workman ; and he used afterwards to say that it 
was the biggest sum of money he had up to that 
time earned in one lump. Ralph Dodds, however, 
did more than this. He released the brakesman 
from the handles of his engine at West Moor, and 
appointed him engineman at the High Pit, at good 
wages, during the time the. pit was sinking, — the 
job lasting for about a year ; and he also kept 
him in mind for further advancement. 

Stephenson's skill as an engine-doctor soon 
became noised abroad, and he was called upon 
to prescribe remedies for all the old, wheezy, and 
ineffective pumping-machines in the neighbourhood. 
In this capacity he soon left the "regular" men far 
behind, though they in their turn were very much 


disposed to treat the Killingworth brakesman as 
no better than a quack. Nevertheless, his practice 
was really founded upon a close study of the 
principles of mechanics, and on an intimate 
practical acquaintance with the details of the 

Another of his smaller achievements in the 
same line is still told by the people of the district. 
At the comer of the road leading to Long Benton, 
there was a quarry from which a peculiar and 
scarce kind of ochre was taken. In the course 
of working it out, the water had collected in con- 
siderable quantities ; and there being no means 
of draining it off, it accumulated to such an extent 
that the further working of the ochre was almost 
entirely stopped. Ordinary pumps were tried, and 
failed ; and then a windmill was tried, and failed 
too. On this, George was asked what ought to be 
done to clear the quarry of the water. He said, **he 
would set up for them an engine little bigger than 
a kail-pot, that would clear them out in a week.' 
And he did so. A little engine was speedily 
erected, by means of which the quarry was pumped 
dry in the course of a few days. Thus his skill 
as a pump-doctor soon became the marvel of the 

In elastic muscular vigour, Stephenson was now 
in his prime, and he still continued to be zealous in 
measuring his strength and agility with his fellow 
workmen. The competitive element in his nature was 
always strong ; and his success in these feats of rivalry 
was certainly remarkable. Few, if any, could lift such 
weights, throw the hammer and putt the stone so far, 
or cover so great a space at a standing or running 
leap. One day, between the engine hour and the 


rope-rolling hour, Kit Heppel challenged him to 
leap from one high wall to another, with a deep gap 
between. To HeppeFs surprise and dismay, George 
took the standing leap, and cleared the eleven feet 
at a bound. Had his eye been less accurate, or his 
limbs less agile and sure, the feat must have cost 
him his life. 

But so full of redundant muscular vigour was he, 
that leaping, putting, or throwing the hammer were 
not enough for him. He was also ambitious of riding 
on horseback, and, as he had not yet been promoted 
to an office enabling him to keep a horse of his own, 
he sometimes borrowed one of the gin-horses for a 
ride. On one of these occasions, he brought the 
animal back reeking ; when Tommy Mitcheson, the 
bank horse-keeper, a rough-spoken fellow, exclaimed 
to him : "Set such fellows as you on horseback, and 
you'll soon ride to the De'il." But Tommy Mitche- 
son lived to tell the joke, and to confess that, after 
all, there had been a better issue to George's horse- 
manship than that which he predicted. 

Old Cree, the engine-wright at Killingworth 
High Pit, having been killed by an accident, George 
Stephenson was, in 1812, appointed engine-wright 
of the colliery at the salary of 100/. a year. He was 
also allowed the use of a galloway to ride upon in 
his visits of inspection to the collieries leased by 
the ** Grand Allies" in that neighbourhood. The 
"Grand Allies" were a company of gentlemen, 
consisting of Sir Thomas Liddell (afterwards Lord 
Ravensworth), the Earl of Strathmore, and Mr. 
Stuart Wortley (afterwards Lord Wharncliffe), the 
lessees of the Killingworth collieries. Having been 
informed of the merits of Stephenson, of his in- 
defatigable industry, and the skill which he had 


displayed in the repairs of the pumping-engines, 
they readily acceded to Mr. Dodds' recommendation 
that he should be appointed the colliery engine- 
wright ; and, as we shall afterwards find, they 
continued to honour him by distinguished marks of 
their approval. 

Killingworth High Pit. 

Glebe Farm House, Benton. 




George Stephenson had now been diligently 
employed for several years in the work of self- 
improvement, and he experienced the usual results 
in increasing mental strength, capability, and skill. 
Perhaps the secret of every man's best success is to 
be found in the alacrity and industry with which he 
takes advantage of the opportunities which present 
themselves for well-doing. Our engineman was 
an eminent illustration of the importance of 
cultivating this habit of life. Every spare moment 
was laid under contribution by him, either for the 
purpose of adding to his earnings, or to his know- 
ledge. He missed no opportunity of extending his 


observations, especially in his own department 
of work, ever aiming at improvement, and trying 
to turn all that he did know to useful practical 

He continued his attempts to solve the mystery 
of Perpetual Motion, and contrived several model 
machines with the object of embodying his ideas 
in a practical working shape. He afterwards used 
to lament the time he had lost in these futile efforts, 
and said that if he had enjoyed the opportunity 
which most young men now have, of learning from 
books what previous experimenters had accom- 
plished, he would have been spared much labour 
and mortification. Not being acquainted with what 
other mechanics had done, he groped his way in 
pursuit of some idea originated by his own 
independent thinking and observation ; and, when 
he had brought it into some definite form, lo ! he 
found that his supposed invention had long been 
known and recorded in scientific books. Often he 
thought he had hit upon discoveries, which he sub- 
sequently found were but old and exploded fallacies. 
Yet his very struggle to overcome the difficulties 
which lay in his way was of itself an education 
of the best sort. By wrestling with them, he 
strengthened his judgment and sharpened his skill, 
stimulating and cultivating his inventiveness and 
mechanical ingenuity. Being very much in earnest, 
he was compelled to consider the subject of his 
special inquiry in all its relations ; and thus he 
gradually acquired practical ability even through 
his very efforts after the impracticable. 

Many of his evenings were now spent in the 
society of John Wigham, whose father occupied 
the Glebe Farm at Benton, close at hand. John was 


a fair penman and a sound arithmetician, and 
Stephenson sought his society chiefly for the 
purpose of improving himself in writing and 
"figures." Under Andrew Robertson, he had 
never quite mastered the Rule of Three, and it was 
only when Wigham took him in hand that he made 
much progress in the higher branches of arithmetic. 
He generally took his slate with him to the Wig- 
hams' cottage, when he had his sums set, that he 
might work them out while tending his engine on 
the following day. When too busy to be able to 
call upon Wigham, he sent the slate to have the 
former sums corrected and new ones set. Sometimes 
also, at leisure moments, he was enabled to do 
a little "figuring" with chalk upon the sides of the 
coal-waggons. So much patient perseverance could 
not but eventually succeed ; and by dint of practice 
and study, Stephenson was enabled to master 
successively the various rules of arithmetic. 

John Wigham was of great use to his pupil in 
many ways. He was a good talker, fond of argu- 
ment, an extensive reader as country reading went 
in those days, and a very suggestive thinker. 
Though his store of information might be com- 
paratively small when measured with that of more 
highly-cultivated minds, much of it was entirely 
new to Stephenson, who regarded him as a very 
clever and ingenious person. 

Wigham taught him to draw plans and sections ; 
though in this branch Stephenson proved so apt 
that he soon surpassed his master. A volume of 
* Ferguson's Lectures on Mechanics/ which fell into 
their hands, was a great treasure to both the 
students. One who remembers their evening 
occupations says he used to wonder what they 

CHAP iv] Stephenson's sobriety 59 

meant by weighing the air and water in so odd a 
way. They were trying the specific gravities of 
objects ; and the devices which they employed, the 
mechanical shifts to which they were put, were 
often of the rudest kind. In these evening enter- 
tainments, the mechanical contrivances were sup- 
plied by Stephenson, whilst Wigham found the 
scientific rationale. The opportunity thus afforded 
to the former of cultivating his mind by contact 
with one wiser than himself proved of great value, 
and in after-life Stephenson gratefully remembered 
the assistance which, when a humble workman, he 
had derived from John Wigham, the farmer's son. 

His leisure moments thus carefully improved, it 
will be inferred that Stephenson continued a sober 
man. Though his notions were never extreme 
on this point, he was systematically temperate. It 
appears that on the invitation of his master, he had, 
on one or two occasions, been induced to join him 
in a forenoon glass of ale in the public-house of the 
village. But one day, about noon, when Dodds had 
got him as far as the public-house door, on his 
invitation to "come in and take a glass o' yel," 
Stephenson made a dead stop, and said, firmly, " No, 
sir, you must excuse me ; I have made a resolution 
to drink no more at this time of day." And he 
went back. He desired to retain the character of a 
steady workman ; and the instances of men about 
him who had made shipwreck of their character 
through intemperance, were then, as now, 
unhappily but too frequent. 

But another consideration besides his own 
self-improvement had already begun to exercise 
an important influence on his life. This was the 
training and education of his son Robert, now 


growing up an active, intelligent boy, as full of fun 
and tricks as his father had been. When a little 
fellow, scarcely able to reach so high as to put a 
clock-head on when placed upon the table, his 
father would make him mount a chair for the 
purpose; and to "help father" was the proudest 
work which the boy then, and ever after, could take 
part in. When the little engine was set up at the 
Ochre Quarry to pump it dry, Robert was scarcely 
absent for an hour. He watched the machine very 
eagerly when it was set to work ; and he was very 
much annoyed at the fire burning away the grates. 
The man who fired the engine was a sort of wag, 
and thinking to get a laugh at the boy, he said, 
" Those bars are getting verra bad, Robert ; I think 
we maun cut up some of that hard wood, and put it 
in instead." " What would be the use of that, you 
fool?" said the boy quickly. "You would no 
sooner have put them in than they would be burnt 
out again ! " 

So soon as Robert was of proper age, his father 
sent him over to the road-side school at Long 
Benton, kept by Rutter, the parish clerk. But the 
education which Rutter could give was of a very 
limited kind, scarcely extending beyond the primer 
and pothooks. While working as a brakesman on 
the pit-head at Killingworth, the father had often 
bethought him of the obstructions he had himself 
encountered in life through his want of schooling ; 
and he formed the noble determination that no 
labour, nor pains, nor self-denial on his part should 
be spared to furnish his son with the best education 
that it was in his power to bestow. 

It is true his earnings were comparatively small 
at that time. He was still maintaining his infirm 



parents ; and the cost of living continued excessive. 
But he fell back upon his old expedient of working 
up his spare time in the evenings at home, or 
during the night shifts when it was his turn to tend 
the engine, in mending and making shoes, cleaning 
clocks and watches, making shoe-lasts for the shoe- 
makers of the neighbourhood, and cutting out the 

Rutter's School House, Long Benton. 

pitmen's clothes for their wives ; and we have been 
told that to this day there are clothes worn at 
Killingworth made after "Geordy Steevie's cut." 
To give his own words : — " In the earlier period 
of my career," said he, " when Robert was a little 
boy, I saw how deficient I was in education, and I 
made up my mind that he should not labour under 
the same defect, but that I would put him to a good 


school, and give him a liberal training. I was, 
however, a poor man ; and how do you think I 
managed? I betook myself to mending my 
neighbours* clocks and watches at nights, after my 
daily labour was done, and thus I procured the 
means of educating my son." * 

Carrying out the resolution as to his boy's 
education, Robert was sent to Mr. Bruce's school 
in Percy Street, Newcastle, at Midsummer, 1815, 
when he was about twelve years old. His father 
bought for him a donkey, on which he rode into 
Newcastle and back daily ; and there are many still 
living who remember the httle boy, dressed in his 
suit of homely grey stuff, cut out by his father, 
cantering along to school upon the "cuddy," with 
his wallet of provisions for the day and his bag of 
books slung over his shoulder. 

When Robert went to Mr. Bruce's school, he 
was a shy, unpolished country lad, speaking the broad 
dialect of the pitmen ; and the other boys would 
occasionally tease him, for the purpose of provoking 
an outburst of his Killingworth Doric. As the 
shyness got rubbed off, his love of fun began to 
show itself, and he was found able enough to hold 
his own amongst the other boys. As a scholar he 
was steady and diligent, and his master was 
accustomed to hold him up to the laggards of the 
school as an example of good conduct and industry. 
But his progress, though satisfactory, was by no 
means extraordinary. He used in after-life to 
pride himself on his achievements in mensuration, 
though another boy, John Taylor, beat him at 

* Speech at Newcastle, on the i8th of June, 1844, at the 
meeting held in celebration of the opening of the Newcastle and 
Darhngton Railway. 



arithmetic. He also made considerable progress 
in mathematics ; and in a letter written to the son 
of his teacher, many years after, he said, '* It was to 
Mr. Bruce's tuition and methods of modelling the 
mind that I attribute much of my success as an 
engineer; for it was from him that I derived my 
taste for mathematical pursuits and the facility I 

Bruce 's School, Newcastle. 

possess of applying this kind of knowledge to 
practical purposes and modifying it according to 

During the time Robert attended school at 
Newcastle, his father made the boy's education 
instrumental to his own. Robert was accustomed 
to spend some of his spare time at the rooms of 
the Literary and Philosophical Institute ; and when 


he went home in the evening, he would recount to 
his father the results of his reading. Sometimes 
he was allowed to take with him to Killingworth 
a volume of the * Repertory of Arts and Sciences,' 
which father and son studied together. But many 
of the most valuable works belonging to the New- 
castle Library were not lent out ; these Robert was 
instructed to read and study, and bring away with 
him descriptions and sketches for his father's 
information. His father also practised him in 
reading plans and drawings without reference to 
the written descriptions. He used to observe 
that "A good plan should always explain itself"; 
and, placing a drawing .of an engine or machine 
before the youth, would say, " There, now, describe 
that to me^-the arrangement and the action." Thus 
he taught him to read a drawing as easily as he 
would read a page of a book. Both father and son 
profited by this excellent practice, which enabled 
them to apprehend with the greatest facility the 
details of even the most difficult and complicated 
mechanical drawing. 

While Robert went on with his lessons in the 
evenings, his father was usually occupied with his 
watch and clock cleaning ; or in contriving models 
of pumping-engines ; or endeavouring to embody 
in a tangible shape the mechanical inventions which 
he found described in the odd volumes on Mechanics 
which fell in his way. This daily and unceasing 
example of industry and application, in the person 
of a loving and beloved father, imprinted itself 
deeply upon the boy's heart in characters never to 
be effaced. A spirit of self-improvement was thus 
early and carefully planted and fostered in Robert's 
mind, which continued to influence him through 


life ; and to the close of his career he was proud 
to confess that if his professional success had been 
great, it was mainly to the example and training of 
his father that he owed it. 

Robert was not, however, exclusively devoted 
to study, but, like most boys full of animal spirits, 
he was very fond of fun and play, and sometimes 
of mischief. Dr. Bruce relates that an old Killing- 
worth labourer, when asked by Robert, on one of 
his last visits to Newcastle, if he remembered him, 
replied with emotion, *' Ay, indeed ! Haven't I paid 
your head many a time when you came with your 
father's bait, for you were always a sad hempy ? " 

The author had the pleasure, in the year 1854, of 
accompanying Robert Stephenson on a visit to his 
old home and haunts at Killingworth. He had so 
often travelled the road upon his donkey to and 
from school, that every foot of it was familiar to 
him ; and each turn in it served to recall to mind 
some incident of his boyish days. His eyes glistened 
when he came in sight of Killingworth pit-head. 
Pointing to a humble red-tiled house by the road- 
side at Benton, he said, " You see that house — that 
was Rutter's, where I learnt my ABC, and made 
a beginning of my school learning. And there," 
pointing to a colliery chimney on the left, " there 
is Long Benton, where my father put up his first 
pumping-engine ; and a great success it was. And 
this humble clay-floored cottage you see here, is 
where my grandfather lived till the close of his life. 
Many a time have I ridden straight into the house, 
mounted on my cuddy, and called upon grandfather 
to admire his points. I remember the old man 
feeling the animal all over — he was then quite blind 
— after which he would dilate upon the shape of his 
v. F 

66 ROBERT Stephenson's boyish tricks [chap iv 

ears, fetlocks, and quarters, and usually end by 
pronouncing him to be a *real blood.' I was a 
great favourite with the old man, who continued 
very fond of animals, and cheerful to the last ; and 
I believe nothing gave him greater pleasure than 
a visit from me and my cuddy." 

On the way from Benton to High Killingworth, 
Mr. Stephenson pointed to a corner of the road 
where he had once played a boyish trick upon a 
Killingworth collier. " Straker," said he, ''was a 
great bully, a coarse, swearing fellow, and a 
perfect tyrant amongst the women and children. He 
would go tearing into old Nanny the huxter's shop 
in the village, and demand in a savage voice, 

* What's yeV best ham the pund ? ' * What's floor 
the hunder ?' ' What d'ye ax for prime bacon?' — his 
questions often ending with the miserable order, 
accompanied with a tremendous oath, of *Gie's a 
penny rrow (roll) an* a baubee herrin ! ' The poor 
woman was usually set ' all of a shake * by a visit 
from this fellow. He was also a great boaster, and 
used to crow over the robbers whom he had put to 
flight ; mere men in buckram, as everybody knew. 
We boys," he continued, " believed him to be a 
great coward, and determined to play him a trick. 
Two other boys joined me in waylaying Straker 
one night at that corner," pointing to it. "We 
sprang out and called upon him, in as gruff* voices 
as we could assume, to ' stand and deliver ! * He 
dropped down upon his knees in the dirt, declaring 
he was a poor man, with a sma' family, asking for 

* mercy,' and imploring us, as ' gentlemen, for God's 
sake, t' let him a-be! ' We couldn't stand this any 
longer, and set up a shout of laughter. Recognizing 
our boys' voices, he sprang to his feet and rattled 


out a volley of oaths ; on which we cut through the 
hedge, and heard him shortly after swearing his 
way along the road to the y el-house." 

On another occasion, Robert played a series of 
tricks of a somewhat different character. Like his 
father, he was very fond of reducing his scientific 
reading to practice ; and after studying Franklin's 
description of the lightning experiment, he pro- 
ceeded to expend his store of Saturday pennies in 
purchasing about half a mile of copper wire at a 
brazier's shop in Newcastle. Having prepared his 
kite, he sent it up in the field opposite his father's 
door, and bringing the wire, insulated by means of 
a few feet of silk cord, over the backs of some of 
Farmer Wigham's cows, he soon had them skipping 
about the field in all directions with their tails up. 
One day he had his kite flying at the cottage-door 
as his father's galloway was hanging by the bridle 
to the paling, waiting for the master to mount. 
Bringing the end of the wire just over the pony's 
crupper, so smart an electric shock was given it, 
that the brute was almost knocked down. At this 
juncture the father issued from the door, riding- 
whip in hand, and was witness to the scientific 
trick just played off* upon his galloway. ** Ah ! you 
mischievous scoondrel ! " cried he to the boy, who 
ran off. He inwardly chuckled with pride, never- 
theless, at Robert's successful experiment* 

• Robert Stephenson was perhaps, prouder of this little boyish 
experiment than he was of many of his subsequent achievements. 
Not having been quite accurately stated in the first edition of this 
book, Mr. Stephenson noted the correction for the second, and 
wrote the author (Sept. i8th, 1857) as follows: — "In the kite 
experiment, will you say, that the copper-wire wis insulated by a 
few feet of silk cord ; without this the experiment cannot be made." 

F 2 


At this time, and for many years after, Stephen- 
son dwelt in a cottage standing by the side of the 
road leading from the West Moor Colliery to 
Killingworth. The railway from the West Moor 
Pit crosses this road close by the east end of the 
cottage. The dwelling originally consisted of but 
one apartment on the ground-flour, with the garret 
over-head, to which access was obtained by means 

Stephenson's Cottage, West Moor. 

of a step-ladder. But with his own hands Stephen- 
son built an oven, and in the course of time he 
added rooms to the cottage, until it became a 
comfortable four-roomed dwelling, in which he 
lived as long as he remained at Killingworth. 

He continued as fond of birds and animals 
as ever, and seemed to have the power of attaching 
them to him in a remarkable degree. He had a 


blackbird at Killingworth so fond of him that it 
would fly about the cottage, and on holding out his 
finger, would come and perch upon it. A cage was 
built for '*blackie" in the partition between the 
passage and the room, a square of glass forming its 
outer wall ; and Robert used afterwards to take 
pleasure in describing the oddity of the bird, 
imitating the manner in which it would cock its 
head on his father's entering the house, and follow 
him with its eye into the inner apartment. 

Neighbours were accustomed to call at the 
cottage and have their clocks and watches set to 
rights when they went wrong. One day, after 
looking at the works of a watch left by a pitman's 
wife, George handed it to his son ; **Put her in the 
oven, Robert," said he, *'for a quarter of an hour or 
so." It seemed an odd way of repairing a watch ; 
nevertheless, the watch was put into the oven, and 
at the end of the appointed time it was taken out, 
going all right. The wheels had merely got clogged 
by the oil congealed by the cold ; which at once 
explains the rationale of the remedy adopted. 

There was a little garden attached to the cottage, 
in which, while a workman, Stephenson took a pride 
in growing gigantic leeks and astounding cabbages. 
There was great competition amongst the villagers 
in the growth of vegetables, all of whom he excelled, 
excepting one of his neighbours, whose cabbages 
sometimes outshone his. In the protection of his 
garden-crops from the ravages of the birds, he 
invented a strange sort of " fley-craw," which moved 
its arms with the wind ; and he fastened his garden- 
door by means of a piece of ingenious mechanism, 
so that no one but himself could enter it. His 
cottage was quite a curiosity-shop of models of 


engines, self-acting planes, and perpetual-motion 
machines. The last-named contrivances, however, 
were only unsuccessful attempts to solve a problem 
which had effectually baffled hundreds of preceding 
inventors. His odd and eccentric contrivances 
often excited great wonder amongst the Killing- 
worth villagers. He won the women's admiration 
by connecting their cradles with the smoke-jack, 
and making them self-acting. Then he astonished 
the pitmen by attaching an alarum to the clock 
of the watchman whose duty it was to call them 
betimes in the morning. He also contrived a 
wonderful lamp which burned under water, with 
which he was afterwards wont to amuse the 
Brandling family at Gosforth, — going into the 
fish-pond at night, lamp in hand, attracting and 
catching the fish, which rushed wildly towards the 

Dr. Bruce tells of a competition which Stephen- 
son had with the joiner at Killingworth, as to which 
of them could make the best shoe-last ; and when 
the former had done his work either for the humour 
of the thing, or to secure fair play from the 
appointed judge, he took it to the Morrisons in 
Newcastle, and got them to put their stamp upon it. 
So that it is possible the Killingworth brakesman, 
afterwards the inventor of the safety lamp and the 
originator of the railway system, and John Morrison, 
the last-maker, afterwards the translator of the 
Scriptures into the Chinese language, may have 
confronted each other in solemn contemplation over 
the successful last, which won the verdict coveted 
by its maker. 

Sometimes he would endeavour to impart to his 
follow- workmen the results of his scientific reading. 


Everything that he learnt from books was so new 
and so wonderful to him, that he regarded the facts 
he drew from them in the light of discoveries, as 
if they had been made but yesterday. Once he 
tried to explain to some of the pitmen how the 
earth was round, and kept turning round. But his 
auditors flatly declared the thing to be impossible, 
as it was clear that " at the bottom side they must 
fall off!" "Ah!" said George, "you don't quite 
understand it yet." His son Robert also early en- 
deavoured to com- 
municate to others 
the information 
which he had 
gathered at school ; 
and Dr. Bruce has 
related that, when 
Visiting Killing- 
worth on one occa- 
sion, he found him 
engaged in teach- 
ing algebra to such 
of the pitmen's 
boys as would be- 
come his pupils. 

While Robert was still at school, his father 
proposed to him during the holidays that he should 
construct a sun-dial, to be placed over their cottage- 
door at West Moor. "I expostulated with him 
at first," said Robert, ** that I had not learnt 
sufficient astronomy and mathematics to enable me 
to make the necessary calculations. But he would 
have no denial. ' The thing is to be done,' said he ; 
*so just set about it at once.' Well; we got a 
* Fergfuson's Astronomy,' and studied the subject 


together. Many a sore head I had while making 
the necessary calculations to adapt the dial to the 
latitude of Killingworth. But at length it was fairly 
drawn out on paper, and then my father got a stone, 
and we hewed, and carved, and polished it until we 
made a very respectable dial of it ; and there it is, 
you see," pointing to it over the cottage-door, ** still 
quietly numbering the hours when the sun is 
shining. I assure you, not a little was thought of 
that piece of work by the pitmen when it was put 
up, and began to tell its tale of time." The date 
carved upon the dial is "August nth, mdcccxvi." 
Both father and son were in after-life very proud 
of the joint production. Many years after, George 
took a party of savants, when attending the meeting 
of the British Association at Newcastle, over to 
Killingworth to see the pits, and he did not 
fail to direct their attention to the sun-dial; and 
Robert, on the last visit which he made to the place, 
a short time before his death, took a friend into the 
cottage, and pointed out to him the very desk, still 
there, at which he had sat while making his calcu- 
lations of the latitude of Killingworth. 

From the time of his appointment as engineer at 
the Killingworth Pit, George Stephenson was in a 
measure relieved from the daily routine of manual 
labour, having, as we have seen, advanced himself 
to the grade of a higher class workman. But he 
had not ceased to be a worker, though he employed 
his industry in a different way. It might, indeed, 
be inferred that he had now the command of greater 
leisure ; but his spare hours were as much as ever 
given to work, either necessary or self-imposed. 
So far as regarded his social position, he had already 
reached the summit of his ambition ; and when he 


had got his hundred a year, and his dun galloway 
to ride on, he said he never wanted to be any higher. 
When Robert Whetherly offered to give him an old 
gig, his travelling having so much increased of late, 
he accepted it with great reluctance, observing, that 
he should be ashamed to get into it, ** people would 
think him so proud" 

When the High Pit had been sunk, and the coal 
was ready for working, Stephenson erected his first 
winding-engine to draw the coals out of the pit, and 
also a pumping-engine for Long Benton Colliery, 
both of which proved quite successful. Amongst 
other works of this time, he projected and laid down 
a self-acting incline along the declivity which fell 
towards the coal-loading place near Willington, 
where he had officiated as brakesman ; and he so 
arranged it, that the full waggons descending drew 
the empty waggons up the railroad. This was one 
of the first self-acting inclines laid down in the 

Stephenson had now much better opportunities 
than hitherto for improving himself in mechanics. 
His familiar acquaintance with the steam-engine 
proved of great value to him. His shrewd insight, 
and his intimate practical acquaintance with its mech- 
anism, enabled him to apprehend, as if by intuition, 
its most abstruse and difficult combinations. The 
practical study which he had given to it when a 
workman, and the patient manner in which he had 
groped his way through all the details of the machine, 
gave him the power of a master in dealing with it 
as applied to colliery purposes. 

Sir Thomas Liddell was frequently about the 
works, and took pleasure in giving every encourage- 
ment to the engine-wright in his efforts after 


improvement. The subject of the locomotive engine 
was already closely occupying Stephenson's atten- 
tion ; although it was still regarded as a curious and 
costly toy, of comparativeh'^ little real use. But he 
had at an early period detected its practical value, 
and formed an adequate conception of the might 
which as yet slumbered within it ; and he now bent 
his entire faculties to the development of its extra- 
ordinary powers. 

Colliers' Cottages at Long Benton. 




The rapid increase in the coal-trade of the Tyne 
about the beginning of the present century had the 
effect of Stimulating the ingenuity of mechanics, and 
encouraging them to devise improved methods of 
transporting the coal from the pits to the shipping 
places. From our introductory chapter, it will have 
been observed that the improvements which had 
thus far been effected were confined almost entirely 
to the road. The railway waggons still continued 
to be drawn by horses. By improving and flatten- 
ing the tramway, considerable economy in horse- 
power had indeed been secured ; but unless some 
more effective method of mechanical traction could 
be devised, it was clear that railway improvement 
had almost reached its limits. 

Many expedients had been tried with this object. 
One of the earliest was that of hoisting sails upon 
the waggons, and driving them along the waggon- 
way, as a ship is driven through the water by the 
wind. This method seems to have been employed 
by Sir Humphrey Mackworth, an ingenious coal- 
miner at Neath in Glamorganshire, about the end of 
the seventeenth century. 

After having been lost sight of for more than a 
century, the sajne plan of impelling carriages was 


revived by Richard Lovell Edgworth, with the 
addition of a portable railway, since revived also, 
in BoydelFs patent. But although Mr. Edgworth 
devoted himself to the subject for many years, he 
failed in securing the adoption of his sailing carriage. 
It is indeed quite clear that a power so uncertain as 
wind could never be relied on for ordinary traffic, 
and Mr. Edgworth's project was consequently left 
to repose in the limbo of the Patent Office, with 
thousands of other equally useless though ingenious 

A much more favourite scheme was the applica- 

Cugnot's Engine. 

tion ol steam power for the purpose of carriage 
traction. Savery, the inventor of the working 
steam-engine, was the first to propose its employ- 
ment to propel vehicles along the common roads ; 
and in 1759 Dr. Robison, then a young man study- 
ing at Glasgow College, threw out the same idea 
to his friend James Watt ; but the scheme was not 

The ^flr^t locomotive steam-carriage was built at 
Paris by the Fren rh pngineer Cugnot, a native of 
Lorraine. It is said to have been invented for the 
purpose of dragging cannon into the field indepen- 
dent of horses. The original model of this machine 

CHAP v] cugnot's locomotive T7 

was made in 1763. Count Saxe was so much pleased 
with, it, that on his recommendation a full-sized 
engine, was constructed at the cost of the French 
monarch; and in 1769 it was tried in the presence 
of the Due de Choiseul, Minister of War, General 
Gribeauval, and other officers. At one of the ex- 
periments it ran with such force as to knock down a 
wall in its way. But the new vehicle, loaded with 
four persons, c ould not travel faster than two and a 
half miles an ^Hbur. The boiler was msu'tticient in 

siz e, and it j c olitd only wnr|^ for abo ut fifteen 
m mutes; after wh ich it .Jataa.^ necessary to wait 
until the steam had a^ain rise n to a suffi cient 
p ressure ; To remedy this defect, Cugnot con- 
sTructe3r a -new- macbine 4ft.-1.f7Or- the. .working of 
which was more satisfactory. It was composed of 
two parts — the fore part consisting of a small steam- 
eni ^ineV form ed of a round copper, boiler^ witt a 
furnace inside, provided with twosmaU chimneys 
and two single-acting brass steam cylinders, whose 
piston]s . acted alternately ..upyoft- th e s ingl e d riving- 
wheel. The hinder part consisted merely of a rude 
carriage on two wheels to carry the load, furnished 
with a seat in front for the conductor. This engine 
was tried in the streets of Paris ; but when passing 
near where the Madeleine now stands, it over- 
balanced itself on turning a corner, and fell over 
with a crash; after which, its employment being 
thought dangerous, it was locked up in the arsenal 
to prevent further mischief. The machine is, how- 
ever, still to be seen in the collection of the 
Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers at Paris. It has 
very much the look of a long brewer's cart, with 
the addition of the circular boiler hung on at one 
end. Rough though it looks, it was a highly 


creditable piece of work, considering the period 
at which it was executed ; and as the first actual 
machine constructed for the purpose of travelling 
on ordinary roads by the power of steam, it is 
certainly a most curious and interesting mechanical 
relic, well worthy of preservation. 

But though Cugnot's road locomotive remained 
locked up from public sight, the subject was not 
dead ; for we find inventors employing themselves 
from time to time in attempting to solve the problem 
of steam locomotion in places far remote from 
Paris. The idea had taken root in the minds of 
inventors, and was striving to grow into a reality. 
Thus Oliver Evans , the American, invented a steam- 
carriage in 1772 to travel on common roads ; in 1787 
he obtained from the State of Maryland an exclusive 
right to make and use steam-carriages, but his 
invention never came into use. Then, in 1784, 
William Symington, one of the early inventors 
of the steamboat, was similarly occupied in Scot- 
land in endeavouring to develope the latent powers 
of the steam-carriage. He had a working model 
of one constructed, which he exhibited in 1786 to 
the professors of Edinburgh College ; but the state 
of the Scotch roads was then so bad that he found 
it impracticable to proceed further with his scheme, 
which he shortly after abandoned in favour of 
steam navigation. 

The same year in which Symington was 
occupied upon his steam-carriage, William Murdock, 
the friend and assistant of Watt, constructed his 
model of a locomotive at the opposite end of the 
island — at Redruth in Cornwall. His model was 
of small dimensions, standing little more than a 
foot high ; and it was until recently in the possession 


of the son of the inventor, at whose house we saw 
it a few years ago. The annexed section will give 
an idea of the arrangements of this machine. 

It acted on the high-pressure principle, and, 
like Cugnot's engine, ran upon three wheels, the 
boiler being heated by a spirit-lamp. Small though 
the machine was, it went so fast on one occasion 
that it fairly outran its inventor. It seems that one 
night after returning from his duties at the Redruth 
mine, Murdock determined to try the working of 
his model locomotive. For this purpose he had 
recourse to the walk leading to the church, about 
a mile from the town. 
It was rather narrow, 
and was bounded on 
each side by high 
hedges. The night was 
dark, and Murdock set 
out alone to try his ex- 
periment. Having lit his 
lamp, the water boiled 
speedily, and off started 
the engine with the 

inventor after it. He soon heard distant shouts of 
terror. It was too dark to perceive objects ; but he 
found, on following up the machine, that the cries 
proceeded from the worthy pastor of the parish, 
who, going towards the town, was met on this lonely 
road by the hissing and fiery little monster, which 
he subsequently declared he had taken to be the 
Evil One in propria persona. No further steps were, 
however, taken by Murdock to embody his idea 
of a locomotive carriage in a more practical form. 

Thp iH^^ ^pQ nPYt talrpn np hy MiirHnp]^^<^ P"r^^ 
Richard Trevithi rl^, who rp<;nlvpH nn hiiiMlrig a 

Section of Murdock's Model. 

8o trevithick's steam-carriage [chap V 

steamr earriage adapted for common roads as well 

^ railways. He took out a patent to secure the 
right of his invention m 1802. Andrew Vivian, his 
cousin, joined with him in the patent — Vivian finding 
the money, and Trevithick the brains. The steam- 
carriage built on this patent presented the appear- 
ance of an ordinary stage-coach on four wheels. 
The engine had one horizontal cylinder, which, 
together with the boiler and the furnace-box, was 
placed in the rear of the hind axle. The motion 
^^^^? pi<=^*^^n was tr?"*^^ittfd t ea separate cra nk- 

jtxlf", from ^Viir h^ through the medium of spur-^ ear. 

' Uie axle of the driving-wheel (which was mounte d 
with a fly-wheel) derived its jnotion. The steam- 
cocks and theTorce-punipj as also the bellows used for 
the purpose of quickening combustion in the furnace, 
were worked off the same crank-axle. 

John Petherick, of Camborne, has related that 
he remembers this first English steam-coach 
passing along the principal street of his native 
town. Considerable difficulty was experienced in 
keeping up the pressure of steam ; but when there 
was pressure enough, Trevithick would call upon 
the people to "jump up," so as to create a load 
upon the engine. It was soon covered with men 
attracted by the novelty, nor did their number 
seem to make any difference in the speed of the 
engine so long as there was steam enough ; but it 
was constantly running short, and the horizontal 
bellows failed to keep it up. 

J This road loromotive of Trevithick 's wa<=; one 
of the first high-pres sure _ worki ng engine s con- 
s tructed oji t^'^^ prinriplp nf moving a piston hy tlie 

j^jas tjrity of steam -^aifist- the pressure -Qftly o f th e 
atTnQ,§pheJ^^ Such an engine had been described 


by Leopold, though in his apparatus it was proposed 
that the pressure should act only on one side of the 
piston. In Trevithick's engine the pistor ] was nnt 
only raised, but was also deprp.9| <^ff] Hy th^ ar^mn 
J^of the i^t^f^TTi. ^>^^"S ^"_ th\'^ rPQpppt ^n fn^^'^^^y 
original inventi on^ and pX^grfi^^IPerit, . The steam 
was admitted ""from the boiler under the pisto n 
moving in a cylinder, impe lli ng it upward. When 
the mo tion had reached j.^^.Urnit, ^^^ r^xwjnunic^unn 
"between the pist.oixaiid the under sijjg W^^ ^hnt off, 
and "the steam allgwed to. escape into the atmos- 
pher e.'^ A passage being then opened be tween the 

^ boiler ana tne upper Sl^ f nf thP pigtnn/ wViirh wag 

pr essed downwards, the steam wag aggin all owed 
to escape as b efore. Thus the power of the engine 
was e qual to the difference betwe£JLttie.pxessxu:e of 
The a fn^p^i pTiere aVid t.hf -filastkity a£ the. *^t^pm in 
the hnil er. 

This steam-carriage excited considerable interest 
in the remote district near the Land's End where it 
had been erected. Being so far removed from the 
great movements and enterprise of the commercial 
world, Trevithick and Vivian determined upon 
exhibiting their machine in the metropolis. They 
accordingly set out with it to Plymouth, whence it 
was conveyed by sea to London. 

The carriage safely reached the metropolis, and 
excited much public interest. It also attracted the 
notice of scientific men, amongst others of Mr. 
Davies Gilbert, President of the Royal Society, and 
Sir Humphry Davy, both Cornishmen like Trevi- 
thick, who went to see the private performances 
of the engine, and were greatly pleased with it. 
Writing to a Cornish friend shortly after its 
arrival in town, Sir Humphry said : " I shall soon 
v. G 


hope to hear that the roads of England are the 
haunts of Captain Trevithick's dragons — a charac- 
teristic name." The machine was afterwards 
publicly exhibited in an enclosed piece of ground 
near Euston Square, where the London and North- 
western station now stands, and it dragged behind 
it a wheel-carriage full of passengers. On the 
second day of the performance, crowds flocked 
to see it ; but Trevithick, in one of his odd freaks, 
shut up the place, and shortly after removed the 
engine. It is, however, probable that the inventor 
came to the conclusion that the state of the 
roads at that time was such as to preclude its 
coming into general use for purposes of ordinary 

While the steam-carriage was being exhibited, 
a gentleman was laying heavy wagers as to the 
weight which could be hauled by a single horse on 
the Wandsworth and Croydon iron tramway ; and 
the number and weight of waggons drawn by the 
horse were something surprising. Trevithick very 
probably put the two things together — the steam- 
horse and the iron-way — and kept the performance 
in mind when he proceeded to construct his second 
or railway locomotive. The idea was not, however, 
entirely new to him ; for although his first engine 
had been constructed with a view to its employ- 
ment upon common roads, the specification of his 
patent distinctly alludes to the application of his 
engine to travelling on railroads. Having been 
employed at the iron-works of Pen-y-darran, in 
South Wales, to erect a forge engine for the Com- 
pany, a convenient opportunity presented itself, on 
the completion of his work, for carrying out his 
design of a locomotive to haul the minerals along 

CHAP v] 



the Pen-y-darran tramway. Such an engine was 
erected by him in 1803, in the blacksmiths' shop at 
the Company's works, and it was finished and ready 
for trial before the end of the year. 

The boiler of this second engine was cylindrical 

^he fuHinrenrif] flnr werp inRJd-p 4hi^ boiler, within 
"wThcTi the single cylinder* eight inches in diameter 

Trevithick's High Pressure Tram-Engine. 

and four feetsixjnc hes stro ke^ was placed horizon- 
lally. As ,,innb& Ifirst engine, the motion of the 
wh eels was pro duced jDy spjjjr.gear* to which was 
aTsoadded a fly-wheel on one side^ to secure a 
rotary mption in the crank at the end of each stroke 
of the piston in the single . cylinder. The waste 
' s'team was thrown into the ehnnney through a tube 
inserted into it at right angles ; but it will be 
obvious that this arrangement was not calculated to 

G 2 


produce any result in the way of a stea m-blast in 

^ ^e chim ney. In fact, the waste steam seems to 

'Tiave been turne3Tnto_ the ^himney in~6rder to get 

-rr& of rhe^ nuisance caused by throwing the jet 

-tKreCflyTnto the air. "'TTevmitcft^' Was''lTere hover ing 

^^n the v erge of a gre'Sfdiscovery ; but tnat n e was 

mOT aware of the action o f the blast in conln buting 

to inCTCase'Ihe 'draught and thus quicken combus- 

tion; T5 clear frorn'the TacT t^hat,,he^.emplp^'ed bellows 

- fbrf Rfs" special purpose ; and at a much later date 

(1815) he took out a patent wTiicfi_included a method 

of urging the fire by means of lanners.* 

At the first trial of this engine it succeeded in 
dragging after it several waggons, containing ten 
tons of bar-iron, at the rate of about five miles 
an hour. Rees Jones, who worked at the fitting of 
the engine, and remembers its performances, says, 
" She was used for bringing down metal from the 
furnaces to the Old Forge. She worked very well ; 
but frequently, from her weight, broke the tram- 

* Mr. Zerah Colburn, in his excellent work on ' Locomotive 
Engineering and the Mechanism of Railways,' points out that Mr. 
Davies Gilbert noted the effect of the discharge of the waste steam 
up the chimney of Trevithick's engine in increasing the draught, 
and wrote a letter to * Nicholson's Journal' (Sept. 1805) on the 
subject, Mr. Nicholson himself proceeded to investigate the subject, 
and in 1806 he took out a patent for "steam-blasting apparatus," 
applicable to fixed engines. Trevithick himself, however, could not 
have had much faith in the steam-blast for locomotive purposes, 
else he would not have taken out his patent for urging the fire by 
means of fanners in 181 5. But the fact is, that while the speed of 
the locomotive was only four or five miles an hour, the blast was 
scarcely needed. It was only when high speeds were adopted that 
artificial methods of urging the fire became necessary, and that the 
full importance of the invention was recognised. Like many other 
inventions, stimulated if not originated by necessity, the steam-blast 
was certainly reinvented, if not invented, by George Stephenson. 


plates and the hooks between the trams. After 
working for some time in this way, she took a load 
of iron from Pen-y-darran down the Basin-road, 
upon which road she was intended to work. On 
the journey she broke a great many of the tram- 
plates, and before reaching the basin ran off the 
road, and had to be brought back to Pen-y-darran 
by horses. The engine was never after used as a 
locomotive." * 

It seems to have been felt that unless the road 
were entirely reconstructed so as to bear the heavy 
weight of the locomotive — so much greater than that 
of the tram-waggons, to carry which the original 
rails had been laid down — the regular employment 
of Trevithick's high-pressure tram-engine was 
altogether impracticable ; and as the owners of the 
works were not prepared to incur so serious a cost, 
it was determined to take the locomotive off the 
road, and employ it as an engine for other purposes. 
It was accordingly dismounted, and used for some 
time after as a pumping-engine, for which purpose 
it was found well adapted. Trevithick himself 
seems from this time to have taken no further steps 
to bring the locomotive into general use. We find 
him, shortly after, engaged upon schemes of a more 
promising character, abandoning the engine to other 
mechanical inventors, though little improvement 
was made in it for several years. An imaginary 
difficulty seems to have tended, amongst other 
obstacles, to prevent its adoption ; viz., the idea that, 
if a heavy weight were placed behind the engine, 
the "grip," or "bite," of its smooth wheels upon the 
equally smooth iron rail must necessarily be so 

* • Mining Journal/ 9th September, 1858. 


slight that they would whirl round upon it, and, 
consequently, that the machine would not make 
progress. Hence Trevithick, in his patent, provided 
that the periphery of the driving-wheels should be 
made rough by the projection of bolts or cross-grooves, 
so that the adhesion of the wheels to the road might 
be secured. 

Following up the presumed necessity for a more 
effectual adhesion between the wheels and the rails, 
Mr. Blenkinsop of Leeds, in 1811, took out a patent 
for a racked or tooth-rail laid along one side of the 
road, into which the toothed-wheel of his locomotive 
worked as pinions work into a rack. The boiler 
of his engine was supported by a carriage with four 
wheels without teeth, and rested immediately upon 
the axles. These wheels were entirely independent 
of the working parts of the engine, and therefore 
merely supported its weight upon the rails, the 
progress being effected by means of the cogged- 
wheel working into the cogged-rail. The engine 
had two cylinders, instead of one as in Trevithick*s 
engine. The invention of the double cylinder was 
due to Matthew Murray, of Leeds, one of the best 
mechanical engineers of his time ; Mr. Blenkinsop, 
who was not a mechanic, having consulted him as 
to all the practical arrangements. The connecting- 
rods gave the motion to two pinions by cranks at 
right angles to each other; these pinions com- 
municating the motion to the wheel which worked 
into the cogged-rail. 

Mr. Blenkinsop*s engines began running on the 
railway from the Middleton Collieries to Leeds, 
about 3I miles, on the 12th of August, 1812. They 
continued for many years to be one of the principal 
curiosities of the place, and were visited by strangers 


from all parts. In 1816 the Grand Duke Nicholas 
(afterwards Emperor) of Russia observed the 
working of Blenkinsop's locomotive with curious 
interest and admiration. An engine dragged as 
many as thirty coal-waggons at a speed of about 
3i miles per hour. These engines continued for 
many years to be thus employed in the haulage 
of coal, and furnished the first instance of the 
regular employment of locomotive power for 
commercial purposes. 

The Messrs. Chapman, of Newcastle, in 181 2, 
endeavoured to overcome the same fictitious 
difiiculty of the want of adhesion between the 
wheel and the rail, by patenting a locomotive to 
work along the road by means of a chain stretched 
from one end of it to the other. This chain was 
passed once round a grooved barrel-wheel under 
the centre of the engine : so that, when the wheel 
turned, the locomotive, as it were, dragged itself 
along the railway. An engine, constructed after 
this plan, was tried on the Heaton Railway, near 
Newcastle; but it was so clumsy in its action, 
there was so great a loss of power by friction, and 
it was found to be so expensive and difficult to keep 
in repair, that it was soon abandoned. Another 
remarkable expedient was adopted by Mr. Brunton, 
of the Butterley Works, Derbyshire, who, in 1813, 
patented his Mechanical Traveller, to go upon legs 
working alternately like those of a horse.* But 

* Other machines, with legs, were patented in the following year 
by Lewis Gompertz and by Thomas Tindall. In TindalPs specifi- 
cation it is provided that the power of the engine is to be assisted 
by a horizontal windmill, and the four pushers, or legs, are to be 
caused to come successively in contact with the ground, and impel 
the carriage ! 


this engine never got beyond the experimental 
state, for, at its very first trial, the driver, to make 
sure of a good start, overloaded the safety-valve, 
when the boiler burst and killed a number of the 
bystanders, wounding many more. These, and 
other contrivances with the same object, projected 
about the same time, show that invention was 
actively at work, and that many minds were 
anxiously labouring to solve the important problem 
of locomotive traction upon railways. 

But the difficulties contended with by these 
early inventors, and the step-by-step progress 
which they made, will probably be best illustrated 
by the experiments conducted by Mr. Blackett, of 
Wylam, which are all the more worthy of 
notice, as the persevering efforts of this gentleman 
in a great measure paved the way for the labours 
of George Stephenson, who, shortly after, took 
up the question of steam-locomotion, and brought 
it to a successful issue. 

The Wylam waggon-way is one of the oldest 
in the north of England. Down to the year 1807 it 
was formed of wooden spars or rails, laid down 
between the colliery at Wylam— where old Robert 
Stephenson had worked — and the village of 
Lemington, some four miles down the Tyne, where 
the coals were loaded into keels or barges, and 
floated down past Newcastle, to be shipped for 
London. Each chaldron-waggon had a man in 
charge of it, and was originally drawn by one horse. 
The rate at which the waggons were hauled was 
so slow that only two journeys were performed 
by each man and horse in one day, and three on 
the day following. This primitive waggon-way 
passed, as before stated, close in front of the 


cottage in which George Stephenson was born ; 
and one of the earliest sights which met his infant 
eyes was this wooden tramroad worked by horses. 

Mr. Blackett was the first colliery owner in the 
North who took an active interest in the locomotive. 
Having formed the acquaintance of Trevithick, in 
London, and inspected the performances of his 
engine, he determined to repeat the Pen-y-darran 
experiment upon the Wylam waggon-way. He 
accordingly obtained from Trevithick, in October, 
1804, a plan of his engine, provided with ''friction 
wheels," and employed Mr. John Whinfield, of 
Pipewellgate, Gateshead, to construct it at his 
foundry there. The engine was constructed under 
the superintendence of one John Steele, an ingenious 
mechanic who had been in Wales, and worked 
under Trevithick in fitting the engine at Pen-y- 
darran. When the Gateshead locomotive was 
finished, a temporary way was laid down in the 
works, on which it was run backwards and forwards 
many times. For some reason, however — it is said 
because the engine was deemed too light for draw- 
ing the coal-trains — it never left the works, but was 
dismounted from the wheels, and set to blow the 
cupola of the foundry, in which service it long 
continued to be employed. 

Several years elapsed before Mr. Blackett took 
any further steps to carry out his idea. The final 
abandonment of Trevithick's locomotive at Pen-y- 
darran perhaps contributed to deter him from 
proceeding further ; but he had the wooden tramway 
taken up in 1808, and a plate-way of cast-iron laid 
down instead — a single line furnished with sidings 
to enable the laden waggons to pass the empty 
ones. The new iron road proved so much smoother 

90 MR. blackett's wylam engine [chap V 

than the old wooden one, that a single horse, 
instead of drawing one, was now enabled to draw 
two, or even three, laden waggons. 

Encouraged by the success of Mr. Blenkinsop's 
experiment at Leeds, Mr. Blackett determined to 
follow his example; and in 1812 he ordered a second 
engine, to work with a toothed driving-wheel upon 
a rack-rail. This locomotive was constructed by 
Thomas Waters, of Gateshead, under the super- 
intendence of Jonathan Foster, Mr. Blackett's 
principal engine-wright. It was a combination of 
Trevithick*s and Blenkinsop*s engines; but it was 
of a more awkward construction than either. The 
boiler was of cast-iron. The engine was provided 
with a single cylinder six inches in diameter, with 
a fly-wheel working at one side to carry the crank 
over the dead points. Jonathan Foster described it 
to the author in 1854, as "a strange machine, with 
lots of pumps, cog-wheels, and plugs, requiring 
constant attention while at work." The weight of 
the whole was about six tons. 

When finished, it was conveyed to Wylam on 
a waggon and there mounted upon a wooden frame 
supported by four pairs of wheels, which had been 
constructed for its reception. A barrel of water, 
placed on another frame upon wheels, was attached 
to it as a tender. After a great deal of labour, the 
cumbrous machine was got upon the road. At first 
it would not move an inch. Its maker. Tommy 
Waters, became impatient, and at length enraged, 
and taking hold of the lever of the safety valve, 
declared in his desperation, that ** either she or he 
should go." At length the machinery was set in 
motion, on which, as Jonathan Foster described to 
the author, " she flew all to pieces, and, it was the 


biggest wonder i' the world that we were not all 
blewn up." The incompetent and useless engine 
was declared to be a failure ; it was shortly after 
dismounted and sold ; and Mr. Blackett^s praise- 
worthy efforts thus far proved in vain. 

He was still, however, desirous of testing the 
practicability of employing locomotive power in 
working the coal down to Lemington, and he deter- 
mined on another trial. He accordingly directed 
his engine-wright to proceed with the building of 
a third engine in the Wylam workshops. This 
new locomotive had a single 8-inch cylinder, was 
provided with a fly-wheel like its predecessor, and 
the driving-wheel was cogged on one side to 
enable it to travel in the rack-rail laid along the road. 
This engine proved more successful than the former 
one; and it was found capable of dragging eight 
or nine loaded waggons, though at the rate of little 
more than a mile an hour, from the colliery to the 
shipping-place. It sometimes took six hours to 
perform the journey of five miles. Its weight was 
found too great for the road, and the cast-iron 
plates were constantly breaking. It was also very 
apt to get off the rack-rail, and then it stood still. 
The driver was one day asked how he got on. 
" Get on ? " said he, " we don't get on ; we only get 
off! " On such occasions, horses had to be sent to 
drag the waggons as before, and others to haul the 
engine back to the workshops. It was constantly 
getting out of order ; its plugs, pumps, or cranks, 
got wrong ; it was under repair as often as at work ; 
at length it became so cranky that the horses were 
usually sent out after it to drag it when it gave up ; 
and the workmen generally declared it to be a 
** perfect plague." Mr. Blackett did not obtain 


credit amongst his neighbours for these experiments. 
Many laughed at his machines, regarding them only 
in the light of crotchets, — frequently quoting the 
proverb that "a fool and his money are soon 
parted." Others regarded them as absurd in- 
novations on the established method of hauling 
coal; and pronounced that they would "never 

Notwithstanding, however, the comparative failure 
of the second locomotive, Mr. Blackett persevered 
with his experiments. He was zealously assisted 
by Jonathan Foster the engine-wright, and William 
Hedley, the viewer of the colliery, a highly in- 
genious person, who proved of great use in carrying 
out the experiments to a successful issue. One of 
the chief causes of failure being the rack-rail„^he 
idea occurred to Mr. Hedley th at^_it_jTiJi:ht be 
possible to secure adhesion, enough between the 
wheel.aild tiie rail by the mere weiglitjof. the engine, 
and he proceeded to. make a series of experiments 
Jor the purpose >> of determining this problem. He 
had a frame placed on four wheels, and fitted up 
with windlasses attached by gearing to the several 
wheels. The frame having been properly weighted, 
six men were set to work the windlasses ; when it 
was found that the adhesion of the smooth wheels 
on the smooth rails was quite sufficient to enable 
them to propel the machine without slipping. 
Having found the proportion which the power bore 
to the weight, he demonstrated by successive 
experiments that the weight of the engine would 
of itself produce sufficient adhesion to enable it to 
draw upon a smooth railroad the requisite number of 
waggons in all kinds of weather. And thus was the 
fallacy which had heretofore prevailed on this subject 


completely exploded, and it was satisfactorily proved 
that rack-rails, toothed wheels, endless chains, and 
legs, were alike unnecessary for the efficient traction 
of loaded waggons upon a moderately level road. 

From this time forward considerably less diffi- 
culty was experienced in working the coal trains 
upon the Wylam tramroad. At length the rack- 
rail was dispensed with. The road was laid with 

Improved Wylam Engine. 

heavier rails ; the working of the old engine was 
improved; and a new engine was shortly after 
built and placed upon the road, still on eight 
wheels, driven by seven rack-wheels working inside 
them — with a wrought-iron boiler through which the 
flue was returned so as largely to increase the heating 
surface, and thus give increased power to the engine. 
As may readily be imagined, the jets of steam 


from the piston, blowing off into the air at high pres- 
sure while the engine was in motion, caused consider- 
able annoyance to horses passing along the Wylam 
road, at that time a public highway. The nuisance 
was felt to be almost intolerable, and a neighbouring 
gentleman threatened to have it put down. To 
diminish the noise as much as possible, Mr. Blackett 
gave orders that so soon as any horse, or horses, 
came in sight, the locomotive was to be stopped, 
and the frightful blast of the engine thus suspended 
until the passing animals had got out of hearing. 
Much interruption was thus caused to the working 
of the railway, and it excited considerable dissatis- 
faction amongst the workmen. The following plan 
was adopted to abate the nuisance : a reservoir was 
provided immediately behind the chimney (as shown 
in the preceding cut) into which the waste steam was 
thrown after it had performed its office in the cylinder; 
and from this reserv^oir, the steam gradually escaped 
into the atmosphere without noise. 

While Mr. Blackett was thus experimenting and 
building locomotives at Wylam, George Stephenson 
was anxiously studying the same subject at Killing- 
worth. He was no sooner appointed engine-wright 
of the collieries than his attention was directed to 
the means of more economically hauling the coal 
from the pits to the river-side. We have seen that 
one of the first important improvements which he 
made, after being placed in charge of the colliery 
machinery, was to apply the surplus power of a 
pumping steam-engine, fixed underground, to draw- 
ing the coals out of the deeper workings of the 
Killingworth mines, — by which he succeeded in 
effecting a large reduction in the expenditure on 
manual and horse labour. 

CHAP v] Stephenson's study of the locomotive 95 

The coals, when brought above ground, had 
next to be laboriously dragged by horses to the 
shipping staiths on the Tyne, several miles distant. 
The adoption of a tramroad, it is true, had tended 
to facilitate their transit : nevertheless the haulage 
was both tedious and costly. With the view of 
economising labour, Stephenson laid down inclined 
planes where the nature of the ground would admit 
of this expedient. Thus, a train of full waggons let 
down the incline by means of a rope running over 
wheels laid along the tramroad, the other end of 
which was attached to a train of empty waggons 
placed at the bottom of the parallel road on the 
same incline, dragged them up by the simple power 
of gravity. But this applied only to a compara- 
tively small part of the road. An economical 
method of working the coal trains, instead of by 
horses, — the keep of which was at that time very 
costly, from the high price of corn, — was still a 
great desideratum ; and the best practical minds in 
the collieries were actively engaged in the attempt 
to solve the problem. 

In the first place Stephenson resolved to make 
himself thoroughly acquainted with what had 
already been done. Mr. Blackett's engines were 
working daily at Wylam, past the cottage where he 
had been bom ; and thither he frequently went to 
mspect the improvements made by Mr. Blackett 
from time to time both in the locomotive and in the 
plateway along which it worked. Jonathan Foster 
informed us that, after one of these visits, Stephenson 
declared to him his conviction that a much more 
effective engine might be made, that should work 
more steadily and draw the load more elTectively. 

He had also the advantage, about the sanie time, 


of seeing one of Blenkinsop*s Leeds engines, which 
was placed on the tramway leading from the 
collieries of Kenton and Coxlodge, on the 2nd 
September, 18 13. This locomotive drew sixteen 
chaldron waggons containing an aggregate weight 
of seventy tons, at the rate of about three miles 
an hour. George Stephenson and several of the 
Killingworth men were amongst the crowd of 
spectators that day ; and after examining the 
engine and observing its performances, he observed 
to his companions, that " he thought he could make 
a better engine than that to go upon legs." Probably 
he had heard of the invention of Brunton, whose 
patent had bj' this time been published, and proved 
the subject of much curious speculation in the 
colliery districts. Certain it is, that, shortly after 
the inspection of the Coxlodge engine, he contem- 
plated the construction of a new locomotive, which 
was to surpass all that had preceded it He 
observed that those engines which had been con- 
structed up to this time, however ingenious in their 
arrangements, had proved practical failures. Mr. 
Blackett's was as yet both clumsy and expensive. 
Chapman*s had been removed from the Heaton 
tramway in 181 2, and was regarded as a total 
failure. And the Blenkinsop engine at Coxlodge 
was found very unsteady and costly in its working ; 
besides, it pulled the rails to pieces, the entire strain 
being upon the rack-rail on one side of the road. 
The boiler, however, having soon after blown up, 
there was an end of that engine; and the colliery 
owners did not feel encouraged to try any further 

An efficient and economical working locomotive, 
therefore, still remained to be invented; and to 

CHAP v] Stephenson's first locomotive 97 

accomplish this object Mr. Stephenson now applied 
himself. Profiting by what his predecessors had 
done, warned by th^lf failur es and encouraged by 
their 4?artial successes, he commenced his labours. 
There was still want ing^ the man who should 
a ccompl ish for .the locomotive what James Watt had 
■"done for the steam-engine, and combine in a complete 
form tTiebesf pomts'Tnlhe separate plans of others, 
embodying with them such original inventions and 
adaptations of his own as to entitle him to the merit 
oTTriVeritmg the working locomotive, in the same 
manner as James Watt is to be regarded as the 
inventor of the working condensing-engine. This 
was the great work upon which George Stephenson 
now entered, though probably without any adequate 
idea of the ultimate importance of his labours to 
society and civilization. 

He proceeded to bring the subject of constructing 
a " Travelling Engine," as he then denominated the 
locomotive, under the notice of the lessees of the 
Killingworth Colliery, in the year 181 3. Lord 
Ravensworth, the principal partner, had already 
formed a very favourable opinion of the new 
engine-wright, from the improvements which he 
had effected in the colliery engines, both above and 
below ground; and, after considering the matter, 
and hearing Stephenson's explanations, he author- 
ised him to proceed with the constr.uction of a loco- 
motive — though his lordship was, by some, called 
a fool for advancing money for such a purpose. 
" The first locomotive that I made," said Stephenson, 
many years after,* when speaking of his early career 

* Speech at the opening of the Newcastle and Darlington Rail- 
way, June 18, 1844. 

V. H 

98 Stephenson's first locomotive [chap v 

at a public meeting in Newcastle, " was at Killing- 
worth Colliery, and with Lord Ravensworth*s 
money. Yes ; Lord Ravensworth and partners 
were the first to entrust me, thirty-two years 
since, with money to make a locomotive engine. I 
said to my friends, there was no limit to the speed 
of such an engine, if the works could be made to 

Our engine-wright had, however, many obstacles 
to encounter before he could get fairly to work with 
the erection of his locomotive. His chief difficulty 
was in finding workmen sufficiently skilled in 
mechanics, and in the use of tools, to follow his 
instructions and embody his designs in a practical 
shape. The tools then in use about the collieries 
were rude and clumsy; and there were no such 
facilities as now exist for turning out machinery 
of an entirely new character. Stephenson was 
under the necessity of working with such men and 
tools as were at his command ; and he had in a great 
measure to train and instruct the workmen himself. 
The engine was built in the workshops at West 
Moor, the leading mechanic employed being the 
colliery blacksmith, an excellent workman in his 
way, though quite new to the work now entrusted 
to him. 

In this first locomotive constructed at Killing- 
worth, Stephenson to some extent followed the plan 
of Blenkinsop's engine. The boiler was cylindrical, 
of wrought iron, 8 feet in length and 34 inches in 
diameter, with an internal flue-tube 20 inches wide 
passing through it. The engine had two vertical 
cylinders of 8 inches diameter, and 2 feet stroke, let 
into the boiler, working the propelling gear with 
gross head$ and connecting rods. The power of the 

CHAP v] Stephenson's first locomotive 99 

two cylinders was combined by means of spur- 
wheels, which communicated the motive power to 
the wheels supporting the engine on the rail, instead 
of, as in Blenkinsop's engine, to cogwheels which 
acted on the cogged rail independent of the four 
supporting wheels. Xh^ f^ngige th us wor ked upon 
whaLJs term^ the second motion. The chimney 
was of wrought iron, round which was a chamber 
extending back to the feed-pumps, for the purpose 
of heating the water previous to its injection into 
the boiler. The engine had no springs, and was 
mounted on a wooden frame supported on four 
wheels. In order to neutralise as much as possible 
the jolts and shocks 
which such an engine 
would necessarily en- 
counter from the ob- 
stacles and inequali- 
ties of the then very 
imperfect plate way, xhcspur^ear. 

the water-barrel which 

served for a tender was fixed to the end of a lever 
and weighted, the other end of the lever being 
connected with the frame of the locomotive carriage. 
By this means the weight of the two was more equally 
distributed, though the contrivance did not by any 
means compensate for the absence of springs. 

The wheels of the locomotive were all smooth, 
Mr. Stephenson having satisfied himself by experi- 
ment that the adhesion between the wheels of a 
loaded engine and the rail would be sufficient for the 
purpose of traction. Robert Stephenson informed 
us that his father caused a number of workmen to 
mount upon the wheels of a waggon moderately 
loaded, and throw their entire weight upon the 

H 2 


spokes on one side, when he found that the waggon 
could thus be easily propelled forward without the 
wheels slipping. This, together with other experi- 
ments, satisfied him of the expediency of adopting 
smooth wheels on his engine, and it was so finished 

The engine was, after much labour and anxiety, 
and frequent alterations of parts, at length brought 
to completion, having been about ten months in 
hand. It was placed upon the Killingworth Rail- 
way on the 25th July, 18 14; and its powers were 
tried on the same day. On an ascending gradient 
of I in 450, the engine succeeded in drawing after 
it eight loaded carriages of thirty tons' weight at 
about four miles an hour ; and for some time after 
it continued regularly at work. 

Although a considerable advance upon previous 
locomotives, " Blutcher " (as the engine was popularly 
called) was nevertheless a somewhat cumbrous and 
clumsy machine. The parts were huddled together. 
The boiler constituted the principal feature; and 
being the foundation of the other parts, it was made to 
do duty not only as a generator of steam, but also 
as a basis for the fixings of the machinery and for 
the bearings of the wheels and axles. The want 
of springs was seriously felt ; and the progress of 
the engine was a succession of jolts, causing con- 
siderable derangement to the machinery. The 
mode of communicating the motive power to the 
wheels by means of the spur-gear also caused 
frequent jerks, each cylinder alternately propelling 
or becoming propelled by the other, as the pressure 
of the one upon the wheels became greater or 
less than the pressure of the other ; and when the 
teeth of the cogwheels became at all worn, a rattling 


noise was produced during the travelling of the 

As the principal test of the success of the 
locomotive was its economy as compared with 
horse power, careful calculations were made with 
the view of ascertaining this important point. The 
result was, that it was found the working of the 
engine was at first barely economical ; and at the 
end of the year the steam power and the horse 
power were ascertained to be as nearly as possible 
upon a par in point of cost. The fate of the loco- 
motive in a great measure depended on this very 
engine. Its speed was not beyond that of a horse's 
walk, and the heating surface presented to the fire 
being comparatively small, sufficient steam could not 
be raised to enable it to accomplish more on an 
average than about four miles an hour. The result 
was anything but decisive ; and the locomotive might 
have been condemned as useless, had not our engineer 
at this juncture applied the steam-blast, and by its 
means carried his experiment to a triumphant issue. 

T]\e gtpam^ aftpf pprfnrminpr its duty in the 

cylinders^ was at first allowed to" escape into the 
open atmosphere with a hissing blast, to the terror 
of horses and cattle. It was complained of as a 
nuisance ; and an action at law against the colliery 
lessees was threatened unless it was stopped. 
Stephenson's attcntio» had been dcawiLto.tbe much 
greater velocity with which the steam issued from 
the exit pipe compared with that at which the smoke 
escaped from the chimn ey. He conceived that, by 
conveying the eduction steam into the chimney, by 
means of a small pipe, after it had performed its 
office in the cylinders, allowing it to escape in a 
vertical direction, its velocity would be imparted 


to the smoke from the fire, or to the^ascending 
^"current of air in the chimney, thereby increasing 
"^he draught, and consequently the intensity of 
combustion in the furnace. 

The experiment was no so oner made than the 
power of the engine was at once more than doubled ; 
combustion was stimuTate3 By""the blast ;^ con- 
sequently the capability of the boiler to generate 
steam was greatly increased, and the effective power 
of the engine augmented in precisely the same pro- 
portion, without in any way adding to its weight. 
This simple but beautiful expedient was really 
fraught with the most important consequences to 
railway communication ; and it is not too much to 
say that the success of the locomotive has in a great 
measure been the result of its adoption. Without 
the steam-blast, by means of which the intensity of 
combustion is maintained at its highest point, 
producing a correspondingly rapid evolution of 
steam, high rates of speed could not have been kept 
up ; the advantages of the multitubular boiler (after- 
wards invented) could never have been fairly tested ; 
and locomotives might still have been dragging 
themselves unwieldily along at little more than five 
or six miles an hour. 

The steam-blast had scarcely been adopted, 
with so decided a success, when Stephenson, 
observing the numerous defects in his engine, 
and profiting by the experience which he had 
already acquired, determined to construct a 
second engine, in which to embody his improve- 
ments in their best form. Careful and cautious 
observation of the working of his locomotive had 
convinced him that the complication arising out of 
the action of the two cylinders being combined by 


spur-wheels would prevent its coming into practical 
use. He accordingly directed his attention to an 
entire change in the construction and mechanical 
arrangements of the machine ; and in the following 
year, conjointly with Mr. Dodds, who provided the 
necessary funds, he took out a patent, dated the 
28th of February, 1815, for an engine which 
combined in a remarkable degree the essential 
requisites of an economical locomotive ; that is to 
say, few parts, simplicity in their action, and direct- 
ness in the mode by which the power was communi- 
cated to the wheels supporting the engine. 

This locomoti ve, like the first, had two vertical 
cylmders, \vh'\cK' commuhicaled 'directly with each 
pair of the four wheels that supported" the engine 
by means of a cross head and a pair of connecting 
"rods. But in attempting to establish a direct com- 
munication between the cylinders and the wheels 
that rolled upon the rails, considerable difficulties 
presented themselves. The ordinary joints could 
not be employed to unite the parts of the engine, 
which was a rigid mass, with the wheels rolling 
upon the irregular surface of the rails ; for it was 
evident that the two rails of the line of way — more 
especially in those early days of imperfect con- 
struction of the permanent road — could not always 
K'e maintained at the same level, — that the wheel at 
one end of the axle might be depressed into one 
part of the line which had subsidecf, whilst the other 
wheel would be comparatively elevated ; and in 
such a position of the axle and wheels, it was obvious 
that" a rigid communication between the cross head 
and the wheels was impracticable. Hence it became 
necessary to form a joint at the top of the piston-rod 
where it united with the cross head, so as to permit 

I04 Stephenson's second locomotive [chap v 

the_£ix)66- -head to preserve complete parallelism 
with'The axle of the wheels" "wiEIi which it was in 
iTTorder to obtain that degree of flexibility com- 
bined with direct action, which was essential for 
ensuring power and avoiding needless friction and 
jars from irregularities in the road. ^Stephen son 
made use of_the " ball and socket " joint for effecting 

' a union between the ends "of ^he Tro'ss" Tiea^f s^he re 
thej'unrted'witTi 'the cuiineclmg rods, and between 
the ends of the connecting rods where they were 
united with the crank-pins attached to each drivin g- 
wheel. "By this arrnngement tb^ p ara]]p ;|jf;TP 

"between, the cross head and .the axle was at all 
times maintained and preserved, without producing 
khy' serious jar or friction on any part' .of. ihe 
'tnachine. Another important point was, to com- 
bine each pair of wheels by means of s umt siufp le 
mechanism instead of by the cogwheels which had 
formerly been used. And, with this abject, 
Stephenson made cranks in each axle at right 
angles to each other, with rods communicating 
horizontally between them. 

A locomotive was constructed upon this plan in 
1815, and was found to answer extremely well. 
But at that period the mechanical skill of the 
country was not equal to forging cranked axles of 
the soundness and strength necessary to stand the 
jars incident to locomotive work. Stephenson was 
accordingly compelled to fall back upon a substi- 
tute, which, although less simple and efficient, was 
within the mechanical capabilities of the workman 
of that day, in respect of construction as well as 
repair. He adopted a chain which rolled over 
indented wheels placed on the centre of each axle. 

CHAP v] Stephenson's second locomotive '105 

and was so arranged that the two pairs of wheels 
were effectually coupled and made to keep pace 
with each other. The chain, however, after a few 
years' use, became stretched ; and then the engines 
were liable to irregularity in their working, especi- 
ally in changing from working back to working 
forward again. Eventually the chain was laid aside, 
and the front and hind wheels were united by rods 
on the outside instead of by rods and crank axles 
inside, as specified in the original patent. This 
expedient completely answered the purpose re- 
quired, without involving any expensive or difficult 

Thus, in 181;. bv dint of patie nt and persevering 
labour, — by careful o bservation of the "works of 
others^'^nd never negJe"ctTpg^to^ail hiriiself of their 
sugge stions^-^Stephenson succeed e JTn m anufactur- 
ingan engine which included the' lollowihg impor- 
lant i mpfovements'on''aTrT)reVious alle^nKpU in the 

^ame ""direction : — wlLr simple .aiul direct communi- 

jcation between the cylinders and the wheels rolling 
u£onL the rails; joint adhesion of all the wheels, 
attain ed by the use of horizontal connecting-rods ; 
2ind^finally^ a beautiful method of exciting the 

^mfiustion of the fuel by employing the waste 
stearn, which had formerly been allowed to escape 

"uselessly into the air. Although many improve- 
ments in detail were afterwards introduced in the 
locomotive by George Stephenson himself, as well 
as by his equally distinguished son, it is perhaps 
not too much to say that this engine, as a mechani- 
cal contrivance, contained the germ of all that has 
since been effected. It may in fact be.j-^garded as 
the type of the preserfFTocbiiibtive engine. 




Explosions of fire-damp were unusually frequent 
in the coal mines of Northumberland and Durham 
about the time when George Stephenson was 
engaged in the construction of his first locomotives. 
These explosions were often attended with fearful 
loss of life and dreadful suffering to the workpeople. 
Killingworth Colliery was not free from such 
deplorable calamities ; and during the time that 
Stephenson was employed as a brakesman at the 
West Moor, several " blasts " took place in the pit, 
by which many workmen were scorched and killed, 
and the owners of the colliery sustained heavy losses. 
One of the most serious of these accidents occurred 
in 1806, not long after he had been appointed 
brakesman, by which 10 persons were killed. 
Stephenson was working at the mouth of the pit 
at the time, and the circumstances connected with 
the accident made a deep impression on his mind. 

Another explosion took place in the same pit 
in 1809, by which 12 persons lost their lives. The 
blast did not reach the shaft as in the former case ; 
the unfortunate persons in the pit having been 
suffocated by the after-damp. More calamitous 
still were the explosions which took place in the 
neighbouring collieries ; one of the worst being that 
of 18 1 2, in the Felling Pit, near Gateshead, by 



which no fewer than 90 men and boys were suflFo- 
cated or burnt to death. And a similar accident 
occurred in the same pit in the year following, by 
which 22 persons perished. 

It was natural that George Stephenson should 
devote his attention to the causes of these deplor- 
able accidents, and to the means by which they 
might if possible be prevented. His daily occupa- 
tion led him to think much and deeply on the 

The Pit Head, West Moor. 

subject As engine-wright of a colliery so extensive 
as that of Killingworth, where there were nearly 
160 miles of gallery excavation, in which he person- 
ally superintended the working of the inclined 
planes along which the coals were sent to the pit 
entrance, he was necessarily very often under- 
ground, and brought face to face with the dangers 
of fire-damp. From fissures in the roofs of the 
galleries, carburetted hydrogen gas was constantly 
flowing; in some of the more dangerous places it 


might be heard escaping from the crevices of the 
coal with a hissing noise. Ventilation, firing, and 
all conceivable modes of drawing out the foul air 
had been adopted, and the more dangerous parts 
of the galleries were built up. Still the danger 
could not be wholly prevented. The miners must 
necessarily guide their steps through the extensive 
underground ways with lighted lamps or candles, 
the naked flame of which, coming in contact with 
the inflammable air, daily exposed them and their 
fellow-workers in the pit to the risk of death in one 
of its most dreadful forms. 

One day, in 1814, a workman hurried into 
Stephenson's cottage with the startling information 
that the deepest main of the colliery was on fire ! 
He immediately hastened to the pit-head, about a 
hundred yards off, whither the women and children 
of the colliery were running, with wildness and 
terror depicted in every face. In a commanding 
voice Stephenson ordered the engineman to lower 
him down the shaft in the corve. There was peril, 
it might be death, before him, but he must go. 

He was soon at the bottom, and in the midst of 
the men, who were paralysed by the danger which 
threatened the lives of all in the pit. Leaping from 
the corve on its touching the ground, he called out : 
" Are there six men among you who have courage 
to follow me? If so, come, and we will put the 
fire out." The Killingworth pitmen had the most 
perfect confidence in their engine-wright, and they 
readily volunteered to follow him. Silence suc- 
ceeded the frantic tumult of the previous minute, 
and the men set to work with a will. In every mine 
bricks, mortar, and tools enough are at hand, and 
by Stephenson's direction the materials were forth- 

CHAP vi] Stephenson's heroic conduct 109 

with carried to the required spot, where, in a very 
short time, a wall was raised at the entrance to the 
main, he himself taking the most active part in the 
work. The atmospheric air was by this means 
excluded, the fire was extinguished, the people were 
saved from death, and the mine was preserved. 

This anecdote of Stephenson was related to the 
writer, near the pit-mouth, by one of the men who 
had been present and helped to build up the brick 
wall by which the fire was stayed, though several 
workmen were suffocated. He related that, when 
down the pit some days after, seeking out the dead 
bodies, the cause of the accident was the subject 
of conversation, and Stephenson was asked, "Can 
nothing be done to prevent such awful occurrences ? " 
His reply was that he thought something might 
be done. " Then," said the other, " the sooner you 
start the better ; for the price of coal-mining now 
is pitmen's lives'' 

Fifty years since, many of the best pits were 
so full of the inflammable gas given forth by 
the coal, that they could not be worked without 
the greatest danger; and for this reason some 
were altogether abandoned. The rudest possible 
methods were adopted of producing light sufficient 
to enable the pitmen to work by. The phosphor- 
escence of decayed fish-skins was tried ; but this, 
though safe, was vety inefficient. The most 
common method employed was what was called 
a steel mill, the notched wheel of which, being 
made to revolve against a flint, struck a succession 
of sparks, which scarcely served to do more than 
make the darkness visible. A boy carried the 
apparatus after the miner, working the wheel, and 
by the imperfect light thus given forth he plied his 

1 10 DR CLANNY's lamp [cHAP VI 

dangerous trade. Candles were only used in those 
parts of the pit where gas was not abundant. 
Under this rude system not more than one-third 
of the coal could be worked ; and two-thirds were 

What the workmen, not less than the coal- 
owners, eagerly desired was, a lamp that should 
give forth sufficient light, without communicating 
flame to the inflammable gas which accumulated 
in certain parts of the pit. Something had already 
been attempted towards the invention of such a 
lamp by Dr. Clanny, of Sunderland, who, in 1813, 
contrived an apparatus to which he gave air from 
the mine through water, by means of bellows. 
This lamp went out of itself in inflammable 
gas. It was found, however, too unwieldy to be 
used by the miners for the purposes of their 
work, and did not come into general use. A 
committee of gentlemen was formed to investigate 
the causes of the explosions, and to devise, if 
possible, some means of preventing them. At the 
invitation of that Committee, Sir Humphry Davy, 
then in the full zenith of his reputation, was 
requested to turn his attention to the subject He 
accordingly visited the collieries near Newcastle on 
the 24th of August, 1815 ; and on the 9th of Novem- 
ber following he read before the Royal Society 
of London his celebrated paper " On the Fire-Damp 
of Coal Mines, and on Methods of lighting the Mine 
so as to prevent its explosion." 

But a humbler though not less diligent and 
original thinker had been at work before him, and 
had already practically solved the problem of the 
Safety-Lamp. Stephenson was of course well aware 
of the anxiety which prevailed in the colliery districts 

CHAP vi] Stephenson's experiments on fire-damp i i i 

as to the invention of a lamp which should give light 
enough for the miners to work by without ex- 
ploding the fire-damp. The painful incidents above 
described only served to quicken his eagerness to 
master the difficulty. 

For several years he had been engaged, in his 
own rude way, in making experiments with the fire- 
damp in the Killingworth mine. The pitmen used 
to expostulate with him on these occasions, believ- 
ing his experiments to be fraught with danger. One 
of the sinkers, observing him holding up lighted 
candles to the windward of the " blower " or fissure 
from which the inflammable gas escaped, entreated 
him to desist; but Stephenson's answer was, that 
"he was busy with a plan by which he hoped to 
make his experiments useful for preserving men's 
lives." On these occasions the miners usually got 
out of the way before he lit the gas. 

In 1815, although he was very much occupied with 
the business of the collieries and the improvement 
of his locomotive engine, he was also busily engaged 
in making experiments upon inflammable gas in the 
Killingworth pit. According to the explanation 
afterwards given by him, he imagined that if he 
could construct a lamp with a chimney so arranged 
as to cause a strong current, it would not fire at the 
top of the chimney ; as the burnt air would ascend 
with such a velocity as to prevent the inflammable 
air of the pit from descending towards the flame ; 
and such a lamp, he thought, might be taken into a 
dangerous atmosphere without risk of exploding. 

Such was Stephenson's theory when he pro- 
ceeded to embody his idea of a miner's safety-lamp 
in a practical form. In the month of August, 1815, 
he requested his friend Nicholas Wood, the head 

112 Stephenson's first lamp made [chap vi 

viewer, to prepare a drawing of a lamp according to 
the description which he gave him. After several 
evenings* careful deliberations, the drawing was 
made, and shown to several of the head men about 
the works. 

Stephenson proceeded to order a lamp to be 
made by a Newcastle tinman, according to his 
plan; and at the same time he directed a glass 
to be made for the lamp at the Northumberland Glass 
House. Both were received by him from the makers 
on the 2 1 St October, and the lamp was taken to 
Killingworth for the purpose of immediate experi- 

" I remember that evening as distinctly as if it 
had been but yesterday," said Robert Stephenson, 
describing the circumstances to the author in 1857: 
" Moodie came to our cottage about dusk, and asked, 

* if father had got back yet with the lamp ? ' * No.' 

* Then Fll wait till he comes,* said Moodie, * he can't 
be long now.* In about half-an-hour, in came my 
father, his face all radiant. He had the lamp with 
him ! It was at once uncovered, and shown to 
Moodie. Then it was filled with oil, trimmed, and 
lighted. All was ready, only the head viewer 
hadn't arrived. *Run over to Benton for Nichol, 
Robert,* said my father to me, * and ask him to come 
directly ; say we're going down the pit to try the 
lamp.* By this time it was quite dark ; and oflF I ran 
to bring Nicholas Wood. His house was at Benton, 
about a mile off. There was a short cut through 
the Churchyard, but just as I was about to pass the 
wicket, I saw what I thought was a white figure 
moving about amongst the grave-stones. I took it 
for a ghost! My heart fluttered, and I was in a 
great fright, but to Wood's house I must get, so I 


made the circuit of the Churchyard ; and when I got 
round to the other side I looked, and lo ! the figure 
was still there. But what do you think it was? 
Only the grave-digger, plying his work at that late 
hour by the light of his lanthorn set upon one of 
the grave-stones ! I found Wood at home, and in a 
few minutes he was mounted and off to my father's. 
When I got back, I was told they had just left — it 
was then about eleven — and gone down the shaft to 
try the lamp in one of the most dangerous parts of 
the mine." 

Arrived at the bottom of the shaft with the lamp, 
the party directed their steps towards one of the 
foulest galleries in the pit, where the explosive gas 
was issuing through a blower in the roof of the 
mine with a loud hissing noise. By erecting some 
deal boarding round that part of the gallery into 
which the gas was escaping, the air was made more 
foul for the purpose of the experiment. After 
waiting about an hour, Moodie, whose practical 
experience of fire-damp in pits was greater than 
that of either Stephenson or Wood, was requested 
to go into the place which had thus been made 
foul; and, having done so, he returned, and told 
them that the smell of the air was such, that if 
a lighted candle were now introduced, an explosion 
must inevitably take place. He cautioned Stephen- 
son as to the danger both to themselves and to 
the pit, if the gas took fire. But Stephenson 
declared his confidence in the safety of his lamp, 
and, having lit the wick, he boldly proceeded 
with it towards the explosive air. The others, 
more timid and doubtful, hung back when they 
came within hearing of the blower; and appre- 
hensive of the danger, they retired into a safe 

V. I 


place, out of sight of the lamp, which gradually 
disappeared with its bearer in the recesses of 
the mine.* 

♦ The Editor of the 'Athenaeum' having (Nov. 8th, 1862} 
characterized the author^s account of this affair as "perfectly 
untrue ^ and a " fiction," it becomes necessary to say a few words 
in explanation of it. The Editor of the * Athenaeum* quotes in 
support of his statement a passage from Mr. Nicholas Wood, who, 
however, does not say that the anecdote is " perfectly untrue," but 
merely that " the danger was no/ quite so great as is represented " : 
he adds that '* at most an explosion might have burnt the hands of 
the operator, but would not extend a few feet from the blower." 
However that may be, we were not without good authority for 
making the original statement. The facts were verbally communi- 
cated to the author in the first place by Robert Stephenson, to 
whom the chapter was afterwards read in MS., in the presence 
of Mr. Sopwith, F.R.S., at Mr. Stephenson's house in Gloucester 
Square, and received his entire approval. But at the time at which 
Mr. Stephenson communicated the verbal information, he also 
handed a little book with his name written in it, still in the author's 
possession, saying, "Read that, you will find it all there." We 
have again referred to the little book which contains, among other 
things, a pamphlet, entitled Report on the Claims of Mr, George 
Stephenson relative to the Invention of his Safety lamp. By the 
Committee appointed at a Meeting holden in A ewcastle, on this 1st 
of November^ 18 17. With an Appendix containing the Evidence, 
Among the witnesses examined were George Stephenson, Nicholas 
Wood, and John Moodie, and their evidence is given in the 
pamphlet. We quote that of Stephenson and Moodie, which was 
not contradicted, but in all material points confirmed by Wood, 
and was published, we believe, with his sanction. George Stephen- 
son said, that he tried the first lamp " in a part of the mine where 
the air was highly explosive. Nicholas Wood and John Moodie 
were his companions when the trial was made. They became 
frightened when they came within hearing of the blower, and would 
not go any further. Mr. Stephenson went alone with the lamp to 
the mouth of the blower," &c. This evidence was confirmed by 
John Moodie, who said the air of the place where the experiment 
was about to be tried was such, that, if a lighted candle had been 
introduced, an explosion would have taken place that would have 
been " extremely dangerous." " Told Stephenson it was foul, and 

CHAP vi] Stephenson's courage in trying it 115 

Advancing to the place of danger, and entering 
within the fouled air, his lighted lamp in hand, 
Stephenson held it firmly out, in the full current of 
the blower, and within a few inches of its mouth ! 
Thus exposed, the flame of the lamp at first in- 
creased, then flickered, and then went out ; but there 
was no explosion of the gas. Returning to his com- 
panions, who were still at a distance, he told them 
what had occurred. Having now acquired some- 
what more confidence, they advanced with him to a 
point from which they could observe him repeat his 
experiment, but still at a safe distance. They saw 
that when the lighted lamp was held within the ex- 
plosive mixture, there was a great flame ; the lamp 
became almost full of fire; and then it smothered 
out. Again returning to his companions, he relighted 
the lamp, and repeated the experiment several times 
with the same result. At length Wood and Moodie 
ventured to advance close to the fouled part of the 
pit; and, in making some of the later trials, Mr. 
Wood himself held up the lighted lamp to the 

Before leaving the pit, Stephenson expressed his 
opinion that by an alteration of the lamp which he 
then contemplated, he could make it burn better; 
this was by a change in the slide through which the 
air was admitted into the lower part, under the 
flame. After making some experiments on the air 

hinted at the danger ; nevertheless, Stephenson would try the 
lamp, confiding in its safety. Stephenson took the lamp and went 
with it into the place in which Moodie had been, and Moodie and 
Wood, apprehensive of the danger, retired to a greater distance," 
&c. The other details of the statement made in the text are fully 
borne out by the published evidence, the accuracy of which, so far 
as the author is aware, has never before been called in question. 

I 2 


collected at the blower, by bladders which were 
mounted with tubes of various diameters, he satisfied 
himself that, when the tube was reduced to a certain 
diameter, the foul air would not pass through ; and 
he fashioned his slide accordingly, reducing the 
diameter of the tube until he conceived it was quite 
safe. In about a fortnight the experiments were 
repeated, in a place purposely made foul as before ; 
on this occasion a larger number of persons ventured 
to witness them, and they again proved successful. 
The lamp was not yet, however, so efficient as the 
inventor desired. It required, he observed, to be 
kept very steady when burning in the inflammable 
gas, otherwise it was liable to go out, in consequence, 
as he imagined, of the contact of the burnt air (as he 
then called it), or azotic gas, which lodged round the 
exterior of the flame. If the lamp was moved hori- 
zontally, the azote came in contact with the flame 
and extinguished it. *' It struck me," said he, " that 
if I put more tubes in, I should discharge the 
poisonous matter that hung round the flame, by 
admitting the air to its exterior part." Although he 
had then no access to scientific books, nor intercourse 
with scientific men, nor anything that could assist 
him in his investigation, besides his own indefatigable 
spirit of inquiry, he contrived a rude apparatus by 
which he tested the explosive properties of the gas 
and the velocity of current (for this was the direction 
of his inquiries) necessary to enable the explosive 
gas to pass through tubes of different diameters. 
In making these experiments in his humble cottage 
at the West Moor, Nicholas Wood and George's son 
Robert usually acted as his assistants, and sometimes 
the gentlemen of the neighbourhood interested in 
coal-mining attended as spectators. 


These experiments were not performed without 
risk, for on one occasion the experimenting party 
had nearly blown off the roof of the cottage. One 
of these " blows up " was described by Stephenson 
himself before the Committee on Accidents in Coal 
Mines, in 1835 • " I made several experiments," said 
he, '*as to the velocity required in tubes of different 
diameters, to prevent explosion from fire-damp. We 
made the mixtures in all proportions of light car- 
buretted hydrogen with atmospheric air in the 
receiver, and we found by the experiments that when 
a current of the most explosive mixture that we 
could make was forced up a tube -^ of an inch in 
diameter, the necessary current was 9 inches in a 
second to prevent its coming down that tube. These 
experiments were repeated several times. We had 
two or three blows up in making the experiments, 
by the flame getting down into the receiver, though 
we had a piece of very fine wire-gauze put at the 
bottom of the pipe, between the receiver and the 
pipe through which we were forcing the current. 
In one of these experiments I was watching the 
flame in the tube, my son was taking the vibrations 
of the pendulum of the clock, and Mr. Wood was 
attending to give me the column 01 water as I called 
for it, to keep the current up to a certain point. As 
I saw the flame descending in the tube I called for 
more water, and Wood unfortunately turned the 
cock the wrong way, the current ceased, . the flame 
went down the tube, and all our implements were 
blown to pieces, which at the time we were not very 
able to replace." 

Stephenson followed up those experiments by 
others of a similar kind, with the view of ascertaining 
whether ordinary flame would pass through tubes 

ii8 Stephenson's second safety-lamp [chap vi 

of a small diameter, and with this object he filed oflF 
the barrels of several small keys. Placing these 
together, he held them perpendicularly over a strong 
flame, and ascertained that it did not pass upward. 
This was a further proof to him of the soundness of 
the course he was pursuing. 

In order to correct the defect of his first lamp he 
resolved to alter it so as to admit the air to the flame 
by several tubes of reduced diameter, instead of by 
a single tube. He inferred that a sufficient quantity 
of air would thus be introduced into the lamp for 
the purposes of combustion, while the smallness 
of the apertures would still prevent the explosive 
gas passing downwards, at the same time that the 
"burnt air" (the cause, in his opinion, of the lamp 
going out) would be more effectually dislodged. 
He accordingly took the lamp to a tinman in New- 
castle, and had it altered so that the air was admitted 
by three small tubes inserted in the bottom of the 
lamp, the openings of which were placed on the 
outside of the burner, instead of having (as in the 
original lamp) the one tube opening directly under 
the flame. 

This second or altered lamp .was tried in the 
Killingworth pit on the 4th November, and was 
found to bum better than the first, and to be perfectly 
safe. But as it did not yet come quite up to the 
inventor's expectations, he proceeded to contrive a 
third lamp, in which he proposed to surround the 
oil vessel with a number of capillary tubes. Then 
it struck him, that if he cut off the middle of the 
tubes, or made holes in metal plates, placed at a 
distance from each other, equal to the length of the 
tubes, the air would get in better, and the effect in 
preventing explosion would be the same. 


He was encouraged to persevere in the completion 
of his safety-lamp by the occurrence of several fatal 
accidents about this time in the Killingworth pit. 
On the 9th November a boy was killed by a blast in 
the A pit, at the very place where Stephenson had 
made the experiments with his first lamp ; and, when 
told of the accident, he observed that if the boy had 
been provided with his lamp, his life would have 
been saved. On the 20th November he went over 
to Newcastle to order his third lamp from a plumber 
in that town. The plumber referred him to his 
clerk, whom Stephenson invited to join him at a 
neighbouring public-house, where they might quietly 
talk over the matter, and finally settle the plan of 
the new lamp. They adjourned to the '* Newcastle 
Arms," near the present High Level Bridge; where 
they had some ale, and a design of the lamp was 
drawn in pencil upon a half-sheet of foolscap, with 
a rough specification subjoined. The sketch, when 
shown to us by Robert Stephenson some years 
since, still bore the marks of the ale. It was a very 
rude design, but sufficient to work from. It was 
immediately placed in the hands of the workmen, 
finished in the course of a few days, and experiment- 
ally tested in the KiHingworth pit like the previous 
lamps, on the 30th November. At that time neither 
Stephenson nor Wood had heard of Sir Humphry 
Davy's experiments nor of the lamp which that 
gentleman proposed to construct. 

An angry controversy afterwards took place as 
to the respective merits of George Stephenson and 
Sir Humphry Davy in respect of the invention of 
the safety-lamp. A committee was formed on both 
sides, and the facts were stated in various ways. It 
is perfectly clear, however, that Stephenson had 


ascertained the fact that flame will not pass through 
tubes of a certain diameter — the principle on which 
the safety-lamp is constructed — before Sir Humphry 
Davy had formed any definite idea on the subject, 
or invented the model lamp afterwards exhibited 
by him before the Royal Society. Stephenson had 
actually constructed a lamp on such a principle, and 

The Cover. 

The* Lamp. 

Davy's Safety -Lamp. 

Stephenson's Safety-Lamp. 

proved its safety, before Sir Humphry had com- 
municated his views on the subject to any person ; 
and by the time that the first public intimation had 
been given of his discovery, Stephenson's second 
lamp had been constructed and tested in like manner 
in the Killingworth pit. Theyfr5/was tried on the 
2ist October, 1815; the second -^z.^ tried on the 
4th November ; but it was not until the 9th November 
that Sir Humphry Davy presented his first lamp to 

CHAP vi] Stephenson's merits as an inventor 121 

the public. And by the 30th of the same month, 
as we have seen, Stephenson had constructed and 
tested his third safety-lamp. 

Stephenson's theory of the ** burnt air " and the 
" draught " was no doubt wrong ; but his lamp was 
right, and that was the great fact which mainly 
concerned him. Torricelli did not know the rationale 
of his tube, nor Otto Giirike that of his air-pump ; 
yet no one thinks of denying them the merit of their 
inventions on that account. The discoveries of Volta 
and Galvani were in like manner independent of 
theory ; the greatest discoveries consisting in 
bringing to light certain grand facts, on which 
theories are afterwards framed. Our inventor had 
been pursuing the Baconian method, though he did 
not think of that, but of inventing a safe lamp, which 
he knew could only be done through the process 
of repeated experiment. He experimented upon the 
fire-damp at the blowers in the mine, and also by 
means of the apparatus which was blown up in his 
cottage, as above described by himself. By experi- 
ment he distinctly ascertained that the explosion of 
fire-damp could not pass through small tubes ; and 
he also did what had not before been done by any 
inventor — he constructed a lamp on this principle, 
and repeatedly proved its safety at the risk of his 
life. At the same time, there is no doubt that it 
was to Sir Humphry Davy that the merit belonged of 
having pointed out the true law on which the safety- 
lamp is constructed. 

The subject of this important invention excited so 
much interest in the northern mining districts, and 
Stephenson's numerous friends considered his lamp 
so completely successful — having stood the test of 
repeated experiments — that they urged him to bring 


his invention before the Philosophical and Literary 
Society of Newcastle, of whose apparatus he had 
availed himself in the course of his experiments on 
fire-damp. After much persuasion he consented, 
and a meeting was appointed for the purpose of 
receiving his explanations, on the evening of the sth 
December, 1815. Stephenson was at that time so 
diffident in manner and unpractised in speech, that 
he took with him his friend Nicholas Wood, to act as 
his interpreter and expositor on the occasion. From 
eighty to a hundred of the most intelligent members 
of the society were present at the meeting, when 
Mr. Wood stood forward to expound the principles 
on which the lamp had been formed, and to describe 
the details of its construction. Several questions 
were put, to which Mr. Wood proceeded to give 
replies to the best of his knowledge. But Stephenson, 
who up to that time had stood behind Wood, screened 
from notice, observing that the explanations given 
were not quite correct, could no longer control his 
reserve, and, standing forward, he proceeded in his 
strong Northumbrian dialect to describe the lamp, 
down to its minutest details. He then produced 
several bladders full of carburetted hydrogen, which 
he had collected from the blowers in the Killing- 
worth mine, and proved the safety of his lamp by 
numerous experiments with the gas, repeated in 
various ways; his earnest and impressive manner 
exciting in the minds of his auditors the liveliest 
interest both in the inventor and his invention. 

Shortly after. Sir H. Davy's model lamp was 
received and exhibited to the coal-miners at New- 
castle, on which occasion the observation was made 
by several gentlemen, "Why, it is the same as 
Stephenson's ! " 


Notwithstanding Stephenson's claim to be re- 
garded as the first inventor of the Tube Safety-lamp, 
his merits do not seem to have been generally 
recognised ; and Sir Humphry Davy carried off the 
larger share of the eclat which attached to the dis- 
covery. What chance had the unknown workman of 
Killingworth with so distinguished a competitor? 
The one was as yet but a colliery engine-wright, 
scarce raised above the manual-labour class, pursuing 
his experiments in obscurity, with a view only to 
usefulness ; the other was the scientific prodigy of 
his day, the most brilliant of lecturers, and the most 
popular of philosophers. 

No small indignation was expressed by the 
friends of Sir Humphry Davy at Stephenson's 
" presumption " in laying claim to the invention of 
the safety-lamp. In 1831 Dr. Paris, in his * Life of 
Sir Humphry Davy,' thus wrote : — ** It will hereafter 
be scarcely believed that an invention so eminently 
scientific, and which could never have been derived 
but from the sterling treasury of science, should 
have been claimed on behalf of an engine-wright of 
Killingworth, of the name of Stephenson — a person 
not even possessing a knowledge of the elements of 

But Stephenson was far above claiming for 
himself any invention not his own. He had already 
accomplished a far greater feat than the making of a 
safety-lamp — he had constructed a successful loco- 
motive, which was to be seen in daily work on the 
Killingworth railway. By the improvements he 
had made in the engine, he might almost be said 
to have invented it; but no one — not even the 
philosophers — detected the significance of that 
wonderful machine. What railways were to 


become, rested in a great measure with that 
" engine-wright of Killingworth, of the name of 
Stephenson," though he was scarcely known as yet 
beyond the bounds of his own district. 

As to the value of the invention of the safety- 
lamp there could be no doubt; and the colliery 
owners of Durham and Northumberland, to testify 
their sense of its importance, determined to present 
a testimonial to its inventor. The friends of Sir 
H. Davy met in August, 1816, to take steps for 
raising a subscription for the purpose. The adver- 
tised object of the meeting was to present him with 
a reward for " the invention of his safety-lamp." To 
this no objection could be taken; for though the 
principle on which the safety-lamps of Stephenson 
and Davy were constructed was the same ; and 
although Stephenson's lamp was, unquestionably, 
the first successful lamp that had been constructed 
on such principle, and proved to be efficient, — yet 
Sir H. Davy did invent a safety-lamp, no doubt 
quite independent of all that Stephenson had done ; 
and having directed his careful attention to the 
subject, and elucidated the true theory of explosion 
of carburetted hydrogen, he was entitled to all praise 
and reward for his labours. But when the meeting 
of coal-owners proposed to raise a subscription for 
the purpose of presenting Sir H. Davy with a 
reward for '* his invention of the safety-lamp," the 
case was entirely altered ; and Stephenson's friends 
then proceeded to assert his claims to be regarded 
as its first inventor. 

Many meetings took place on the subject, and 
much discussion ensued, the result of which was 
that a sum of 2000/. was presented to Sir Humphry 
Davy as " the inventor of the safety-lamp " ; but, at 

[chap VI LETTER TO **THE PAPERS " 125 

the same time, a purse of loo guineas was voted 
to George Stephenson, in consideration of what he 
had done in the same direction. This result was, 
however, very unsatisfactory to Stephenson, as well 
as to his friends, and Mr. Brandling, of Gosforth, 
suggested to him that, the subject being now fairly 
before the public, he should publish a statement of 
the facts on which his claim was founded. 

This was not at all in George's line. He had 
never appeared in print; and it seemed to him a 
more formidable thing to write a letter for "the 
papers " than to invent a safety-lamp or design a 
locomotive. However, he called to his aid his son 
Robert, set him down before a sheet of foolscap, and 
told him to *' put down there just what I tell you." 
The composition of this letter, as we were informed by 
the writer of it, occupied more evenings than one ; and 
when it was at length finished, after many corrections, 
and fairly copied out, the father and son set out — the 
latter dressed in his Sunday's round jacket — to lay 
the joint production before Mr. Brandling, at Gosforth 
House. Glancingover the letter, Mr. Brandling said, 
"George, this will never do." " It is all true, sir," was 
the reply. " That may be ; but it is badly written." 
Robert blushed, for he thought the penmanship was 
called in question, and he had written his best. Mr. 
Brandling, however, revised the letter, which was 
shortly after published in the local journals. 

Stephenson's friends, fully satisfied of his claims 
to priority as the inventor of the safety-lamp used 
in the Killingworth and other collieries, held a public 
meeting for the purpose of presenting him with a 
reward "for the valuable service he had thus rendered 
to mankind." A subscription was immediately com- 
menced with this object, and a committee was formed. 


consisting of the Earl of Strathmore, C. J. Brandling, 
and others. The subscriptions, when collected, 
amounted to looo/. Part of the money was devoted to 
the purchase of a silver tankard, which was presented 
to the inventor, together with the balance of the 
subscription, at a public dinner given in the Assembly 
Rooms at Newcastle.* But what gave Stephenson 
even greater pleasure than the silver tankard and 
purse of sovereigns was the gift of a silver watch, 
purchased by small subscriptions amongst the 
colliers themselves, and presented by them as a token 
of their personal esteem and regard for him, as well 
as of their gratitude for the perseverance and skill 
with which he had prosecuted his valuable and life- 
saving invention to a successful issue. 

However great the merits of Stephenson in con- 
nection with the invention of the tube safety-lamp, 
they cannot be regarded as detracting from the 
reputation of Sir Humphry Davy. His inquiries 
into the explosive properties of carburetted hydro- 
gen gas were quite original ; and his discovery of 
the fact that explosion will not pass through tubes 
of a certain diameter was made independently of all 
that Stephenson had done in verification of the same 
fact. It even appears that Mr. Smithson Tennant 
and Dr. WoUaston had observed the same fact 

* The tankard bore the following inscription : — " This piece of 
plate, purchased with a part of the sum of looo/., a subscription raised 
for the remuneration of Mr. George Stephenson for having dis- 
covered the fact that inflamed fire-damp will not pass through tubes 
and apertures of small dimensions, and having been the first to 
apply that principle in the construction of a safety-lamp calculated 
for the preservation of human life in situations formerly of the 
greatest danger, was presented to him at a general meeting of the 
subscribers, Charles John Brandling, Esq., in the Chair. January 
1 2th, 1818." 


several years before, though neither Stephenson nor 
Davy knew it while they were prosecuting their 
experiments. Sir Humphry Davy's subsequent 
modification of the tube-lamp, by which, while 
diminishing the diameter, he in the same ratio 
shortened the tubes without danger, and in the 
form of wire-gauze enveloped the safety-lamp by 
a multiplicity of tubes, was a beautiful application 
of the true theory which he had formed upon the 

The increased number of accidents which have 
occurred from explosions in coal-mines since the 
general introduction of the Davy lamp, have led to 
considerable doubts as to its safety, and to inquiries 
as to the means by which it may be further improved ; 
for experience has shown that, under certain cir- 
cumstances, the Davy lamp is not safe. Stephenson 
was himself of opinion that the modification of his 
own and Sir Humphry Davy's lamp, combining the 
glass cylinder with the wire-gauze, was the most 
secure ; at the same time it must be admitted that 
the Davy and the Geordy lamps alike failed to stand 
the severe tests to which they were submitted by 
Dr. Pereira, before the Committee on Accidents in 
Mines. Indeed, Dr. Pereira did not hesitate to say, 
that when exposed to a current of explosive gas the 
Davy lamp is ^'decidedly unsafe," and that the 
experiments by which its safety had been " demon- 
strated" in the lecture-room had proved entirely 
" fallacious." 

It is worthy of remark, that under circumstances 
in which the wire-gauze of the Davy lamp becomes 
red-hot from the high explosiveness of the gas, the 
Geordy lamp is extinguished; and we cannot but 
think that this fact testifies to the decidedly superior 


safety of the Geordy. An accident occurred in the 
Oaks colliery Pit at Bamsley on the 20th August, 
1857, which strikingly exemplified the respective 
qualities of the lamps. A sudden outburst of gas 
took place from the floor of the mine, along a dis- 
tance of fifty yards. Fortunately the men working 
in the pit at the time were all supplied with safety- 
lamps — the hewers with Stephenson's, and the 
hurriers with Davy's. Upon this occasion, the 
whole of the Stephenson's lamps, over a space of 
five hundred yards, were extinguished almost in- 
stantaneously ; whereas the Davy lamps were filled 
with fire, and became red-hot — so much so, that 
several of the men using them had their hands burnt 
by the gauze. Had a strong current of air been 
blowing through the gallery at the time, an explosion 
would most probably have taken place — an accident 
which, it will be observed, could not, under such 
circumstances, occur from the use of the Geordy, 
which is immediately extinguished as soon as the 
air becomes explosive.* 

Nicholas Wood, a good judge, has said of the 
two inventions, " Priority has been claimed for each 
of them — I believe the inventions to be parallel. 
By different roads they both arrived at the same 
result. Stephenson's is the superior lamp. Davy's 
is safe — Stephenson's is safer." 

When the question of priority was under dis- 
cussion at the studio of Mr. Lough, the sculptor, 
in 1857, Sir Matthew White Ridley asked Robert 

* The accident above referred to was described in the * Bamsley 
Times,* a copy of which, containing the account, Robert Stephen- 
son forwarded to the author, with the observation that " it is 
evidently written by a practical miner, and is, I think, worthy of 
record in my father's Life." 


Stephenson, who was present, for his opinion on 
the subject. His answer was, " I am not exactly the 
person to give an unbiassed opinion ; but, as you 
ask me frankly, I will as frankly say, that if George 
Stephenson had never lived. Sir Humphry Davy 
could and most probably would have invented the 
safety-lamp ; but again, if Sir Humphry Davy had 
never lived, George Stephenson certainly would 
have invented the safety-lamp, as I believe he did, 
independent of all that Sir Humphry Davy had ever 
done in the matter." 

■" > 

West Moor Pit, Killingworth. 



GEORGE Stephenson's further improvements in 



Stephenson's experiments on fire-damp, and his 
labours in connexion with the invention of the 
safety-lamp, occupied but a small portion of his time, 
which was necessarily devoted for the most part to 
the ordinary business of the colliery. From the day 
of his appointment as engine-wright, one of the 
subjects which particularly occupied his attention 
was the best practical method of winning and raising 
the coal. He was one of the first to introduce steam 
machinery underground with the latter object. In- 
deed, the Killingworth mines came to be regarded 
as the models of the district ; the working arrange- 
ments generally being conducted in a skilful and 
efficient manner, reflecting the highest credit on the 
colliery engineer. 

Besides attending to the underground arrange- 
ments, the improved transit of the coals aboveground 
from the pithead to the shipping-place, demanded 
an increasing share of his attention. Every day's 
experience convinced him that the locomotive con- 
structed by him after his patent of the year 1815, 
was far from perfect ; though he continued to enter- 


tain confident hopes of its eventual success. He 
even went so far as to say that the locomotive would 
yet supersede every other traction-power for draw- 
ing heavy loads. Many still regarded his travelling 
engine as little better than a curious toy ; and some, 
shaking their heads, predicted for it "a terrible 
blow-up some day." Nevertheless, it was daily per- 
forming its work with regularity, dragging the coal- 
waggons between the colliery and the staiths, and 
saving the labour of many men and horses. There 
was not, however, so marked a saving in haulage as 
to induce the colliery masters to adopt locomotive 
power generally as a substitute for horses. How 
it could be improved and rendered more efficient 
as well as economical, was constantly present to 
Stephenson's mind. 

At an early period of his labours, or about the 
time when he had completed his second locomotive, 
he began to direct his particular attention to the 
state of the Road ; as he perceived that the extended 
use of the locomotive must necessarily depend in 
a great measure upon the perfection, solidity, con- 
tinuity, and smoothness of the way along which the 
engine travelled. Even at that early period, he was 
in the habit of regarding the road and the locomotive 
as one machine, speaking of the rail and the wheel 
as " man and wife." 

All railways were at that time laid in a careless 
and loose manner, and great inequalities of level 
were allowed to occur without much attention being 
paid to repairs. The consequence was a great loss 
of power, as well as much tear and wear of the 
machinery, by the frequent jolts and blows of the 
wheels against the rails. His first object therefore 
was, to remove the inequalities produced by the 

K 2 


imperfect junction between rail and rail. At that 
time (in 1816) the rails were made of cast iron, each 
rail being about three feet long ; and sufficient care 
was not taken to maintain the points of junction on 
the same level. The chairs, or cast-iron pedestals 
into which the rails were inserted, were flat at the 
bottom ; so that whenever any disturbance took 
place in the stone blocks or sleepers supporting 
them, the flat base of the chair upon which the rails 
rested being tilted by unequal subsidence, the end 
of one rail became depressed, whilst that of the 
other was elevated. Hence constant jolts and 
shocks, the reaction of which very often caused the 

fracture of the 
rails, and occa- 
sionally threw 
the engine off 
the road. 

To remedy 
Half-lap Joint. this impcrfcction 

Mr. Stephenson 
devised a new chair, with an entirely new mode of 
fixing the rails therein. Instead of adopting the 
butt-joint which had hitherto been used in all cast- 
iron rails, he adopted the half-lap joint, by which 
means the rails extended a certain distance over each 
other at the ends, like a scarf-joint. These ends, 
instead of resting upon the flat chair, were made to 
rest upon the apex of a curve forming the bottom of 
the chair. The supports were also extended from 
three feet to three feet nine inches or four feet apart. 
These rails were accordingly substituted for the old 
cast-iron plates on the Killingworth Colliery Rail- 
way, and they were found to be a very great im- 
provement upon the previous system, adding both 


to the efficiency of the horse-power still employed 
in working the railway, and to the smooth action of 
the locomotive engine, but more particularly increas- 
ing the efficiency of the latter. 

This improved form of rail and chair was 
embodied in a patent taken out in the joint names 
of Mr. Losh, of Newcastle, iron-founder, and of Mr. 
Stephenson, bearing date 30th September, 18 16. 
Mr. Losh being an enterprising iron-manufacturer, 
and having confidence in George Stephenson and 
his improvements, found the money for the purpose 
of taking out the patent, which, in those days, was 
a very costly as well as troublesome affair. 

The specification of the same patent also des- 
cribed various important improvements in the 
locomotive itself The wheels of the engine were 
improved, being altered from cast to malleable iron, 
in whole or in part, by which they were made 
lighter as well as more durable and safe. But the 
most ingenious and original contrivance embodied 
in this patent was the substitute for springs which 
Mr. Stephenson invented. He contrived that the 
steam generated in the boiler should perform this 
important office. The method by which this was 
effected displayed such genuine mechanical genius, 
that we would particularly call attention to the 
device, which was the more remarkable, as it was 
contrived long before the possibility of steam 
locomotion had become an object of general inquiry 
or of public interest. 

It has already been observed that up to, and 
indeed after, the period of which we speak, there 
was no such class of skilled mechanics, nor were 
there any such machines and tools in use, as are 
now available to inventors and manufacturers. 


Although skilled workmen were in course of 
gradual training in a few of the larger manu- 
facturing towns, they did not, at the date of 
Stephenson's patent, exist in any considerable 
numbers, nor was there then any class of mechanics 
capable of constructing springs of sufficient strength 
and elasticity to support locomotive engines of ten 
tons weight. 

In order to avoid the dangers arising from the 
inequalities of the road, Stephenson so arranged 
the boiler of his new patent locomotive that it was 
supported upon the frame of the engine by four 
cylinders, which opened into the interior of the 
boiler. These cylinders were occupied by pistons 
with rods, which passed downwards and pressed 
upon the upper side of the axles. The cylinders 
opening into the interior of the boiler allowed the 
pressure of steam to be applied to the upper side of 
the piston ; and the pressure being nearly equivalent 
to one-fourth of the weight of the engine, each axle, 
whatever might be its position, had at all times 
nearly the same amount of weight to bear, and 
consequently the entire weight was pretty equally 
distributed amongst the four wheels of the loco- 
motive. Thus the four floating pistons were 
ingeniously made to serve the purpose of springs 
in equalising the weight, and in softening the 
jerks of the machine ; the weight of which, it must 
also be observed, had been increased, on a road 
originally calculated to bear a considerably lighter 
description of carriage. This mode of supporting 
the engine remained in use until the progress of 
spring-making had so far advanced that steel 
springs could be manufactured of sufficient strength 
to bear the weight of locomotive engines. 


The result of the actual working of the new 
locomotive on the improved road amply justified the 
promises held forth in the specification. The traffic 
was conducted with greater regularity and economy, 
and the superiority of the engine, as compared with 
horse traction, became still more marked. It is a 
fact worthy of notice, that the identical engines 
constructed in 1816 after the plan above described 

Old Killingworth Locomotive, still in use. 

are to this day to be seen in regular useful work 
upon the Killingworth Railway, conveying heavy 
coal-trains at the speed of between five and six 
miles an hour, probably as economically as any 
of the more perfect locomotives now in use. 

Mr. Stephenson's endeavours having been 
attended with such marked success in the adaptation 
of locomotive power to railways, his attention was 


many of his friends, about the year 1818, 
i)plication of steam to travelling on common 
It was from this point that the locomotive 
_ Trevithick's first engine having been con- 
structed with this special object. Stephenson's 
friends having observed how far behind he had 
left the original projector of the locomotive in its 
application to railroads, perhaps naturally inferred 
that he would be equally successful in applying it 
to the purpose for which Trevithick and Vivian had 
intended their first engine. But the accuracy with 
which he estimated the resistance to which loads 
were exposed on railways, arising from friction 
and gravity, led him at a very early stage to reject 
the idea of ever applying steam power econo- 
mically to common-road travelling. In October, 
181 8, he made a series of careful experiments in 
conjunction with Nicholas Wood, on the resistance 
to which carriages were exposed on railways, 
testing the results by means of a dynamometer 
of his own construction. The series of practical 
observations made by means of this instrument 
were interesting, as the first systematic attempt 
to determine the precise amount of resistance to 
carriages moving along railways. It was then fo r 
^he ,.first -tottr^ascrrtflined by eyperimpnt that thfL 
frictiaa.-w€»- ft-€ O i istaiit quaiitiiy at -ati- velocitie s. 
Although this theory had long before — been 
developed by Vince.and.Couiomby and was well 
known to scientific men as an established truth, 
yet, at the time when Stephenson made his 
experiments, the deductions., iif- philosophers on 
the subject we re neither believed in nor acted upon 
by practical engineers. ""* 

He ascertained that the resistances to traction 


were mainly three; the first being upon the axles 
of the carriages, the second, or rolling resistance, 
being between the circumference of the wheel and 
the surface of the rail, and the third being the 
resistance of gravity. The amount of friction and 
gravity he could accurately ascertain ; but the roll- 
ing resistance was a matter of greater difficulty, being 
subject to much variation. He satisfied himself, 
however, that it was so great when the surface 
presented to the wheel was of a rough character, 
that the idea of working steam carriages econo- 
mically on common roads was dismissed by him 
as entirely impracticable. Taking it as lo lbs. 
to a ton weight on a level railway, it became 
obvious to him that so small a rise as i in 
lOO would diminish the useful effort of a loco- 
motive by upwards of 50 per cent. This was 
demonstrated by repeated experiments, and the 
important fact, thus rooted in his mind, was never 
lost sight of in the course of his future railway 

It was owing in a great measure to these pains- 
taking experiments that he early became convinced 
of the vital importance, in an economical point of 
view, of reducing the country through which a rail- 
way was intended to pass as nearly as possible to 
a level. Where, as in the first coal railways of 
Northumberland and Durham, the load was nearly 
all one way, — that is, from the colliery to the ship- 
ping-place, — it was an advantage to have an inclina- 
tion in that direction. The strain on the powers of 
the locomotive was thus diminished, and it was 
easy for it to haul the empty waggons back to the 
colliery up even a pretty steep incline. But when 
the loads were both ways, he deemed it of great 


importance that the railroad should be constructed 
as nearly as possible on a level. 

These views, thus early entertained, originated 
in Stephenson's mind the peculiar character of rail- 
road works as distinguished from other roads ; for, 
in railways, he early contended that large sums 
would be wisely expended in perforating barriers 
of hills with long tunnels, and in raising the lower 
levels with the excess cut down from the adjacent 
high ground. In proportion as these views forced 
themselves upon his mind and were corroborated 
by his daily experience, he became more and more 
convinced of the hopelessness of applying steam 
locomotion to common roads; for every argument 
in favour of a level railway was, in his view, an 
argument against the rough and hilly course of a 
common road. 

Although Stephenson's locomotive engines were 
in daily use for many years on the Killingworth 
Railway, they excited comparatively little interest. 
They were no longer experimental, but had become 
an established tractive power. The experience of 
years had proved that they worked more steadily, 
drew heavier loads, and were, on the whole, con- 
siderably more economical than horses. Neverthe- 
less eight years passed before another locomotive 
railway was constructed and opened for the pur- 
poses of coal or other traffic. 

Stephenson had no means of bringing his impor- 
tant invention prominently under the notice of 
the public. He himself knew well its importance, 
and he already anticipated its eventual general 
adoption; but being an unlettered man, he could 
not give utterance to the thoughts which brooded 
within him on the subject. Killingworth Colliery 


lay far from London, the centre of scientific life in 
England It was visited by no savants nor literary 
men, who might have succeeded in introducing 
to notice the wonderful machine of Stephenson. 
Even the local chroniclers seem to have taken no 
notice of the Killingworth Railway. 

There seemed, indeed, to be so small a prospect 
of introducing the locomotive into general use, 
that Stephenson, — perhaps feeling the capabilities 
within him, — again recurred to his old idea of 
emigrating to the United States. Before joining 
Mr. Burrel as partner in a small foundry at Forth 
Banks, Newcastle, he had thrown out to him the 
suggestion that it would be a good speculation for 
them to emigrate to North America, and introduce 
steamboats upon the great inland lakes there. The 
first steamers were then plying upon the Tyne 
before his eyes ; and he saw in them the germ of 
a great revolution in navigation. It occurred to 
him that North America presented the finest field 
for trying their wonderful powers. He was an 
engineer, his partner was an iron-founder; and 
between them he thought they might strike out a 
path to fortune in the mighty West. Fortunately, 
this idea remained a mere speculation so far as 
Stephenson was concerned ; and it was left to 
others to do what he had dreamt of achieving. 
After all his patient waiting, his skill, industry, and 
perseverance were at length about to bear fruit. 

In 1819 the owners of the Hetton Colliery, in the 
county of Durham, determined to have their waggon- 
way altered to a locomotive railroad. The result 
of the working of the Killingworth Railway had 
been so satisfactory, that they resolved to adopt the 
same system. One reason why an experiment so 


long continued and so successful as that at Killing- 
worth should have been so slow in producing 
results, perhaps was, that to lay down a railway 
and furnish it with locomotives, or fixed engines 
where necessary, required a very large capital, 
beyond the means of ordinary coal-owners ; whilst 
the small amount of interest felt in railways by the 
general public, and the supposed impracticability 
of working them to a profit, as yet prevented 
ordinary capitalists from venturing their money in 
the promotion of such undertakings. The Hetton 
Coal Company were, however, possessed of adequate 
means ; and the local reputation of the Killingworth 
engine-wright pointed him out as the man best 
calculated to lay out their line, and superintend 
their works. They accordingly invited him to act 
as the engineer of the proposed railway, which was 
to be the longest locomotive line that had, up to 
that time, been constructed. It extended from 
the Hetton Colliery, situated about two miles south 
of Houghton-le-Spring, in the county of Durham, 
to the shipping-places on the banks of the Wear, 
near Sunderland. Its length was about eight miles ; 
and in its course it crossed Warden Law, one of the 
highest hills in the district. The character of the 
country forbade the construction of a flat line, or 
one of comparatively easy gradients, except by the 
expenditure of a much larger capital than was placed 
at the engineer's disposal. Heavy works could not 
be executed ; it was therefore necessary to form the 
line with but little deviation from the natural con- 
formation of the district which it traversed, and also 
to adapt the mechanical methods employed for its 
working to the character of the gradients, which in 
some places were necessarily heavy. 


Although Stephenson had, with every step made 
towards its increased utility, become more and 
more identified with the success of the locomotive 
engine, he did not allow his enthusiasm to carry him 
away into costly mistakes. He carefully drew the 
line between the cases in which the locomotive 
could be usefully employed, and those in which 
stationary engines were calculated to be more 
economical. This led him, as in the instance of the 
Hetton Railway, to execute lines through and over 
rough countries, where gradients within the powers of 
the locomotive engine of that day could not be secured, 
employing in their stead stationary engines where 
locomotives were not practicable. In the present 
case, this course was adopted by him most success- 
fully. On the original Hetton line there were five 
self-acting inclines, — the full waggons drawing the 
empty ones up, — and two inclines worked by fixed 
reciprocating engines of sixty horse power each. 
The locomotive travelling engine, or "the iron 
horse," as the people of the neighbourhood then 
styled it, did the rest. On the day of the opening 
of the Hetton Railway, the i8th November, 1822, 
crowds of spectators assembled from all parts to 
witness the first operations of this ingenious and 
powerful machinery, which was entirely successful. 
On that day five of Stephenson's locomotives were 
at work upon the railway, under the direction of his 
brother Robert ; and the first shipment of coal was 
then made by the Hetton Company, at their new 
staiths on the Wear. The speed at which the 
locomotives travelled was about 4 miles an hour, 
and each engine dragged after it a train of 17 
waggons, weighing about 64 tons. 

While thus advancing step by step,— attending 

142 Robert's pursuits at killingworth [chap vii 

to the business of the Killingworth Colliery, and 
laying out railways in the neighbourhood, — he was 
carefully watching over the education of his son. 
We have already seen that Robert was sent to 
Bruce's school at Newcastle, where he remained 
about four years. He left it in the summer of 1819, 
and was then put apprentice to Mr. Nicholas Wood, 
the head viewer at Killingworth, to learn the 
business of the colliery. He served in that capacity 
for about three years, during which time he became 
familiar with most departments of underground 
work. The occupation was not unattended with 
peril, as the following incident will show. Though 
the use of the Geordy lamp had become general 
in the Killingworth pits, and the workmen were 
bound, under a penalty of half-a-crown, not to use 
a naked candle, it was difficult to enforce the rule, 
and even the masters themselves occasionally broke 
it. One day Nicholas Wood, the head viewer, 
Moodie the under-viewer, and Robert Stephenson, 
were proceeding along one of the galleries. Wood 
with a naked candle in his hand, and Robert 
following him with a lamp. They came to a place 
where a fall of stones from the roof had taken place, 
on which Wood, who was first, proceeded to clam- 
ber over the stones, holding high the naked candle. 
He had nearly reached the summit of the heap, when 
the fire-damp, which had accumulated in the hollow of 
the roof, exploded, and instantly the whole party 
were blown down, and the lights extinguished. They 
were a mile from the shaft, and quite in the dark. 
There was a rush of the workpeople from all 
quarters towards the shaft, for it was feared that the 
fire might extend to more dangerous parts of the 
pit, where, if the gas had exploded, every soul in the 


mine must inevitably have perished. Robert 
Stephenson and Moodie, on the first impulse, ran 
back at full speed along the dark gallery leading 
to the shaft, coming into collision, on their way, 
with the hind quarters of a horse stunned by the 
explosion. When they had gone halfway, Moodie 
halted, and bethought him of Nicholas Wood. 
" Stop, laddie ! " said he to Robert, " stop ; we 
maun gang back, and seek the maister." So they 
retraced their steps. Happily, no further explosion 
had taken place. They found the master lying on 
the heap of stones, stunned and bruised, with his 
hands severely burnt. They led him to the bottom 
of the shaft ; and he took care afterwards not to 
venture into the dangerous parts of the mine without 
the protection of a Geordy lamp. 

The time that Robert spent at Killingworth as 
viewer's apprentice was of advantage both to his 
father and himself. The evenings were generally 
devoted to reading and study, the two from this time 
working together as friends and co-labourers. One 
who used to drop in at the cottage of an evening 
well remembers the animated and eager discussions 
which on some occasions took place, more especially 
with reference to the growing powers of the loco- 
motive engine. The son was even more enthusiastic 
than the father on this subject Robert would 
suggest numerous alterations and improvements in 
details. His father, on the contrary, would offer 
every possible objection, defending the existing 
arrangements, — proud, nevertheless, of his son's 
suggestions, and often warmed and excited by his 
brilliant anticipations of the ultimate triumph of the 

These discussions probably had considerable 


influence in inducing Stephenson to take the next 
important step in the education of his son. Al- 
though Robert, who was only nineteen years of age, 
was doing well, and was certain at the expiration 
of his apprenticeship to rise to a higher position, 
his father was not satisfied with the amount of 
instruction which he had as yet given him. Remem- 
bering the disadvantages under which he himself 
laboured through his ignorance of practical chemistry 
during his investigations connected with the safety- 
lamp, more especially with reference to the proper- 
ties of gas, as well as in the course of his experiments 
with the object of improving the locomotive engine, 
he determined to furnish his son with as complete 
a scientific culture as his means would afford. He 
also believed that a proper training in technical 
science was indispensable to success in the higher 
walks of the engineer's profession : and he deter- 
mined to give to his son that kind and degree of 
education which he so much desired for himself. 
He would thus, he knew, secure a hearty and 
generous co-worker in the elaboration of the great 
ideas now looming before him, and with their united 
practical and scientific knowledge he probably felt 
that they would be equal to any enterprise. 

He accordingly took Robert from his labours as 
under-viewer in the West Moor Pit, and in October, 
1822, sent him to the Edinburgh University, there 
being then no college in England accessible to persons 
of moderate means, for purposes of scientific culture. 
Robert was furnished with letters of introduction to 
several men of literary eminence in Edinburgh ; his 
father's reputation in connexion with the safety-lamp 
being of service to him in this respect He lodged 
in Drummond Street, in the immediate vicinity of 


the college, and attended the Chemical Lectures 
of Dr. Hope, the Natural Philosophy Lectures of 
Sir John Leslie, and the Natural History Class 
of Professor Jameson. He also devoted several 
evenings in each week to the study of practical 
Chemistry under Dr. John Murray, himself one of 
the numerous designers of a safety-lamp. He took 
careful notes of all the lectures, which he copied out 
at night before he went to bed; so that, when he 
returned to Killingworth, he might read them over 
to his father. He afterwards had the notes bound 
up, and placed in his library. Long years after, 
when conversing with Thomas Harrison, C.E., at his 
house in Gloucester Square, he rose from his seat and 
took down a volume from the shelves. Mr. Harrison 
observed that the book was in MS., neatly written 
out. " What have we here ? " he asked. The 
answer was — " When I went to college, I knew the 
difficulty my father had in collecting the funds to 
send me there. Before going I studied short-hand ; 
while at Edinburgh, I took down verbatim every 
lecture ; and in the evenings, before I went to bed, I 
transcribed those lectures word for word. You see 
the result in that range of books." 

One of the practical sciences in the study of 
which Robert Stephenson took special interest while 
at Edinburgh was that of geology. The situation of 
the city, in the midst of a district of highly in- 
teresting geological formation, easily accessible to 
pedestrians, is indeed most favourable to the pursuit 
of such a study ; and it was the practice of Professor 
Jameson frequently to head a band of his pupils, 
armed with hammers, chisels, and clinometers, and 
take them with him on a long ramble into the 
country, for the purpose of teaching them habits of 
v. L 


observation and reading to them from the open book 
of Nature itself At the close of this session, the 
professor took with him a select body of his pupils 
on an excursion along the Great Glen of the High- 
lands, in the line of the Caledonian Canal, and 
Robert formed one of the party. They passed 
under the shadow of Ben Nevis, examined the 
famous old sea-margins known as the '* parallel roads 
of Glen Roy," and extended their journey as far as 
Inverness ; the professor teaching the young men as 
they travelled how to observe in a mountain country. 
Not long before his death, Robert Stephenson spoke 
in glowing terms of the great pleasure and benefit 
which he had derived from that interesting excur- 
sion. "I have travelled far, and enjoyed much," he 
said; "but that delightful botanical and geological 
journey I shall never forget, and I am just about to 
start in the Titania for a trip round the east coast 
of Scotland, returning south through the Caledonian 
Canal, to refresh myself with the recollection of that 
first and brightest tour of my life." 

Towards the end of the summer of 1822 the 
young student returned to Killingworth to re-enter 
upon the active business of life. The six months' 
study had cost his father 80/. ; but he was amply 
repaid by the better scientific culture which his 
son had acquired, and the evidence of ability and 
industry which he was enabled to exhibit in a prize 
for mathematics which he had won at the University. 




The district west of Darlington, in Durham, is one 
of the richest mineral fields of the North. Vast 
stores of coal underlie the Bishop Auckland Valley ; 
and from an early period new and good roads to 
market were felt to be exceedingly desirable. As yet 

Map of Stockt(ni and Darlington Railway. 

it remained almost a closed field, the cost of transport 
of the coal in carts, or on horses* or donkeys* backs, 
greatly limiting the sale. Long ago, in the days of 
canal formations, Brindley was consulted about a 
canal; afterwards, in 1812, a tramroad was sur- 
veyed by Rennie; and eventually, in 18 17, a rail- 

L 2 



[chap VIII 

way was projected from Darlington to Stockton- 

Of this railway Edward Pease was the projector. 
A thoughtful and sagacious man, ready in resources, 
possessed of indomitable energy and perseverance, 
he was eminently qualified to undertake what 


Edward Pease. 

appeared to many the hopeless enterprise of obtain- 
ing an Act for a railway through such an unpromising 
district. One who knew him in 1818 said, "he was 
a man who could see a hundred years ahead." 
When the writer last saw him, in the autumn of 
1854, Mr. Pease was in his eighty-eighth year; yet 


he Still possessed the hopefulness and mental vigour 
of a man in his prime. Hale and hearty, and full of 
reminiscences of the past, he continued to take an 
active interest in all the measures calculated to 
render men happier and better. Still sound in 
health, his eye had not lost its brilliancy, nor his 
cheek its colour ; and there was an elasticity in his 
step which younger men might have envied.* 

In getting up a company for surveying and 
forming a railway, Mr. Pease had great difficulties 
to encounter. The people of the neighbourhood 
spoke of it as a ridiculous undertaking, and predicted 
that it would be ruinous to all concerned. Even 
those most interested in the opening of new markets 
for their coal were indifferent, if not actually hostile. 
The Stockton merchants and shipowners, whom it 
was calculated so greatly to benefit, gave the project 
no support ; and not twenty shares were subscribed 
for in the whole town. Mr. Pease nevertheless 
persevered ; and he induced many of his friends and 
relations to subscribe the capital required. 

The necessary preliminary steps were taken in 
1818 to apply for an act to authorise the construction 
of a tramroad from Witton to Stockton. The 
measure was, however, strongly opposed by the 
Duke of Cleveland, because the proposed line 
passed close by one of his fox covers ; and the 
bill was rejected. A new survey was then 
made, avoiding the Duke's cover; and in 1819 a 
renewed application was made to Parliament. 
The promoters were this time successful, and 
the royal assent was given to the first Stockton 

• Mr. Pease died at Darlington, on the 31st of July, 1858, aged 


and Darlington Railway Act on the 19th April, 

The projectors did not originally contemplate 
the employment of locomotives. The Act provided 
for the making and maintaining of tramroads for the 
passage "of waggons and other carriages" "wj/A 
men and horses or otherwise," and a further clause 
made provision for damages done in course of traffic 
by the " waggoners." The public were to be free 
" to use with horses, cattle and carriages," the roads 
formed by the company, on payment of the author- 
ised rates, ** between the hours of seven in the 
morning and six in the evening," during winter ; 
"between six in the morning and eight in the 
evening," in two of the spring and autumn months ; 
and "between five in the morning and ten in the 
evening," in the summer months of May, June, July, 
and August. From this it will be obvious that the 
projectors of the line had themselves at first no very 
large conceptions as to the scope of their project. 

One day, in the spring of 182 1, two strangers 
knocked at the door of Mr. Pease's house in Darling- 
ton ; and the message was brought to him that some 
persons from Killingworth wanted to speak with 
him. They were invited in, on which one of the 
visitors introduced himself as Nicholas Wood, 
viewer at Killingworth, and then turning to his 
companion, he introduced him as George Stephen- 
son, engine-wright, of the same place. 

Mr. Pease entered into conversation with his 
visitors, and was soon told their object. Stephenson 
had heard of the passing of the Stockton and 
Darlington Act, and desiring to increase his railway 
experience, ^nd also to employ in some larger field 
the practical knowledge he had already gained, he 


determined to visit the known projector of the 
undertaking, with the view of being employed to 
carry it out. He had brought with him his friend 
Wood, for the purpose at the same time of relieving 
his diffidence, and supporting his application. 

Mr. Pease liked the appearance of his visitor : 
"there was," as he afterwards remarked when 
speaking of Stephenson, " such an honest, sensible 
look about him, and he seemed so modest and 
unpretending. He spoke in the strong Northum- 
brian dialect of his district, and described himself 
as *only the engine-wright at Killingworth ; that's 
what he was.' " 

Mr. Pease soon saw that our engineer was the 
very man for his purpose. The whole plans of the 
railway were still in an undetermined state, and Mr. 
Pease was therefore glad to have the opportunity 
of profiting by Stephenson's experience. In the 
course of their conversation, the latter strongly re- 
commended a railway in preference to a tramroad. 
They also discussed the kind of tractive power to 
be employed : Mr. Pease stating that the company 
had based their whole calculations on the employ- 
ment of horse power. " I was so satisfied," said he 
afterwards, "that a horse upon an iron road would 
draw ten tons for one ton on a common road, that 
I felt sure that before long the railway would 
become the King's highway." But Mr. Pease was 
scarcely prepared for the bold assertion made by 
his visitor, that the locomotive engine with which 
he had been working the Killingworth Railway 
for many years past was worth fifty horses, and 
that engines made after a similar plan would yet 
entirely supersede all horse power upon railroads. 
Stephenson was daily becoming more positive a^ to 


the superiority of his locomotive ; and hence he 
strongly urged Mr. Pease to adopt it. " Come over 
to Killingworth/' said he, "and see what my engines 
can do ; seeing is believing, sir." Mr. Pease accor- 
dingly promised that on some early day he would 
go over to Killingworth, and take a look at the 
wonderful machine that was to supersede horses. 

The result of the interview was, that Mr. Pease 
promised to bring Stephenson's application for the 
appointment of engineer before the Directors, and 
to support it with his influence ; whereon the two 
visitors prepared to take their leave, informing 
Mr. Pease that they intended to return to Newcastle 
" by nip " ; that is, they expected to get a smuggled 
lift on the stage coach, by tipping Jehu, — for in 
those days the stage coachmen regarded all casual 
roadside passengers as their proper perquisites. 
They had, however, been so much engrossed by 
their conversation, that the lapse of time was 
forgotten, and when Stephenson and his friend 
made enquiries about the return coach, they found 
the last had left ; and they had to walk the i8 miles 
to Durham on their way back to Newcastle. 

Mr. Pease having made further enquiries respect- 
ing Stephenson's character and qualifications, and 
having received a very strong recommendation of 
him as the right man for the intended work; he 
brought the subject of his application before the 
directors of the Stockton and Darlington Company, 
They resolved to adopt his recommendation that a 
railway be formed instead of a tramroad ; and they 
further requested Mr. Pease to write to Stephenson, 
desiring him to undertake a re-survey of the line at 
the earliest practicable period. 

A man was despatched on a horse with the letter, 


and when he reached Killingworth he made diligent 
enquiry after the person named upon the address, 
" George Stephenson, Esquire, Engineer." No such 
person was known in the village. It is said that 
the man was on the point of giving up all further 
search, when the happy thought struck some of the 
colliers' wives who had gathered about him, that it 
must be " Geordie the engine-wright " the man was 
in search of; and to Geordie's cottage he accordingly 
went, found him at home, and delivered the letter. 

About the end of September, Stephenson went 
carefully over the line of the proposed railway for 
the purpose of suggesting such improvements and 
deviations as he might consider desirable. He was 
accompanied by an assistant and a chainman, — his 
son Robert entering the figures while his father took 
the sights. After being engaged in the work at 
intervals for about six weeks, Stephenson reported 
the result of his survey to the Board of Directors, 
and showed that, by certain deviations, a line shorter 
by about three miles might be constructed at a 
considerable saving in expense, while at the same 
time more favourable gradients — an important 
consideration — would be secured. 

It was, however, determined in the first place to 
proceed with the works at those parts of the line 
where no deviation was proposed ; and the first rail 
of the Stockton and Darlington Railway was laid 
with considerable ceremony, near Stockton, on the 
23rd May, 1822. 

It is worthy of note that Stephenson, in making 
his first estimate of the cost of forming the rail- 
way according to the instructions of the directors, 
set down, as part of the cost, 6200/. for stationary 
engines, not mentioning locomotives at all. The 


directors as yet confined their views to the employ- 
ment only of horses for the haulage of the coals, 
and of fixed engines and ropes where horse-power 
was not applicable. The whole question of steam 
locomotive power was, in the estimation of the 
public, as well as of practical and scientific men, as 
yet in doubt. The confident anticipations of George 
Stephenson, as to the eventual success of locomotive 
engines, were regarded as mere speculations; and 
when he gave utterance to his views, as he frequently 
took the opportunity of doing, it even had the effect 
of shaking the confidence of some of his friends in 
the solidity of his judgment and his practical qualities 
as an engineer. 

When Mr. Pease discussed the question with 
Stephenson, his remark was, " Come over and see 
my engines at Killingworth, and satisfy yourself as 
to the efficiency of the locomotive. I will show 
you the colliery books, that you may ascertain for 
yourself the actual cost of working. And I must 
tell you that the economy of the locomotive engine 
is no longer a matter of theory, but a matter of fact." 
So confident was the tone in which Stephenson 
spoke of the success of his engines, and so important 
were the consequences involved in arriving at a 
correct conclusion on the subject, that Mr. Pease 
at length resolved upon paying a visit to Killing- 
worth in the summer of 1822, to see with his own 
eyes the wonderful new power so much vaunted by 
the engineer. 

When Mr. Pease arrived at Killingworth village, 
he inquired for George Stephenson, and was told 
that he must go over to the West Moor, and seek 
for a cottage by the roadside, with a dial over the 
door— "that was where George Stephenson lived" 


They soon found the house with the dial ; and on 
knocking, the door was opened by Mrs. Stephenson 
— his second wife (Elizabeth Hindmarsh), the 
daughter of a farmer at Black Callerton, whom he 
had married in 1820.* Her husband, she said, was 
not in the house at present, but she would send for 
him to the colliery. And in a short time Stephen- 
son appeared before them in his working dress, just 
as he had come out of the pit. 

He very soon had his locomotive brought up to 
the crossing close by the end of the cottage, — made 
the gentlemen mount it, and showed them its paces. 
Harnessing it to a train of loaded waggons, he ran 
it along the railroad, and so thoroughly satisfied 
his visitors of its power and capabilities, that from 
that day Edward Pease was a declared supporter of 
the locomotive engine. In preparing the Amended 
Stockton and Darlington Act, at Stephenson's 
urgent request Mr. Pease had a clause inserted, 
taking power to work the railway by means of 
locomotive engines, and to employ them for the 

• The story has been told that George was a former suitor of 
Miss Hindraarsh, while occupying the position of a humble work- 
man at Black Callerton, but that having been rejected by her, he 
made love to and married Fanny Henderson ; and that long after 
the death of the latter, when he had become a comparatively 
thriving man, he again made up to Miss Hindmarsh, and was 
on the second occasion accepted. This is the popular story, and 
different versions of it are current. Desirous of ascertaining the 
facts, the author called on Thomas Hindmarsh, Mrs. Stephenson's 
brother, who assured him that George knew nothing of his sister 
until he (Hindmarsh) introduced him to her, at George's express 
request, about the year 181 8 or 1819. The author was himself 
originally attracted by the much more romantic version of the story, 
and gave publicity to it many years since ; but after Mr. Hind- 
marsh's explicit statement, he thought fit to adopt the soberer, and 
perhaps, the truer view. 


haulage of passengers as well as of merchandise.* 
The Act was obtained in 1823, on which Stephenson 
was appointed the company's engineer at a salary 
of 300/. per annum ; and it was determined that the 
line should be constructed and opened for traffic as 
soon as practicable. 

He at once proceeded, accompanied by his 
assistants, with the working survey of the line, 
laying out every foot of the ground himself Rail- 
way surveying was as yet in its infancy, and was 
slow and difficult work. It afterwards became a 
separate branch of railway business, and was en- 
trusted to a special staff. Indeed on no subsequent 
line did George Stephenson take the sights through 
the spirit level with his own hands and eyes as he 
did on this railway. He started very early — dressed 
in a blue tailed coat, breeches, and top-boots — and 
surveyed until dusk. He was not at any time 
particular as to his living; and during the survey 
he took his chance of getting a little milk and 
bread at some cottager's house along the line, or 
occasionally joined in a homely dinner at some 
neighbouring farmhouse. The country people were 
accustomed to give him a hearty welcome when 
he appeared at their door ; for he was always full 
of cheery and homely talk, and when there were 
children about the house, he had plenty of humorous 
chat for them as well as for their seniors. 

After the day's work was over, George would 
drop in at Mr. Pease's to talk over the progress of 
the survey, and discuss various matters connected 
with the railway. Mr. Pease's daughters were 

* The first clause in any railway act, empowering the employ- 
ment of locomotive engines for the working of passenger traffic. 


usually present ; and on one occasion, finding the 
young ladies learning the art of embroidery, he 
volunteered to instruct them.* " I know all about 
it," said he ; " and you will wonder how I learnt it. 
I will tell you. When I was a brakesman at Killing- 
worth, I learnt the art of embroidery while working 
the pitmen's buttonholes by the engine fire at nights." 
He was never ashamed, but on the contrary rather 
proud, of reminding his friends of these humble 
pursuits of his early life. Mr. Pease's family were 
greatly pleased with his conversation, which was 
always amusing and instructive ; full of all sorts of 
experience, gathered in the oddest and most out-of- 
the-way places. Even at that early period, before 
he mixed in the society of educated persons, there 
was a dash of speculativeness in his remarks, which 
gave a high degree of originality to his conversation ; 
and he would sometimes, in a casual remark, throw 
a flash of light upon a subject, which called up a 
train of pregnant suggestions. 

One of the most important subjects of discussion 
at these meetings with Mr. Pease was the establish- 
ment of a manufactory at Newcastle for the building 
of locomotive engines. Up to this time all the 
locomotives constructed after Stephenson's designs 
had been made by ordinary mechanics working 
among the collieries in the North of England. But 
he had long felt that the accuracy and style of their 
workmanship admitted of great improvement, and 
that upon this the more perfect action of the loco- 
motive engine, and its general adoption, in a great 

* This incident, communicated to the author by the late Edward 
Pease, has since been made the subject of a fine picture by Mr. A. 
Rankley, A.R.A., exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 


measure depended. One great object that he had 
in view in establishing the proposed factory was, 
to concentrate a number of good workmen for the 
purpose of carrying out the improvements in detail 
which he was constantly making in his engine. He 
felt hampered by the want of efficient help from 
skilled mechanics, who could work out in a practical 
form the ideas of which his busy mind was always 
so prolific. Doubtless, too, he believed that the 
manufactory would prove a remunerative invest- 
ment, and that on the general adoption of the railway 
system which he anticipated, he would derive solid 
advantages from the fact of his establishment being 
the only one of the kind for the special construction 
of locomotive engines. 

Mr. Pease approved of his design, and strongly 
recommended him to carry it into effect. But there 
was the question of means; and Stephenson did 
not think he had capital enough for the purpose. 
He told Mr. Pease that he could advance 1000/. — the 
amount of the testimonial presented by the coal- 
owners for his safety-lamp invention, which he had 
still left untouched; but he did not think this 
sufficient for the purpose, and he thought that he 
should require at least another 1000/. Mr. Pease 
had been very much struck with the successful 
performances of the Killingworth engine ; and being 
an accurate judge of character, he believed that he 
could not go far wrong in linking a portion of his 
fortune with the energy and industry of George 
Stephenson. He consulted his friend Thomas 
Richardson in the matter ; and the two consented 
to advance 500/. each for the purpose of establishing 
the engine factory at Newcastle. A piece of 
land was accordingly purchased in Forth Street, 


in August, 1823, on which a small building was 
erected — the nucleus of the gigantic establishment 
which was afterwards formed around it ; and active 
operations were begun early in 1824. 

While the Stockton and Darlington Railway 
works were in progress, our engineer had many 
interesting discussions with Mr. Pease, on points 
connected with its construction and working, the 
determination of which in a great measure affected 
the formation and working of all future railways. 
The most important points were these : i. The com- 
parative merits of cast and wrought iron rails. 
2. The gauge of the railway. 3. The employment 
of horse or engine power in working it, when ready 
for traffic. 

The kind of rails to be laid down to form the 
permanent road was a matter of considerable im- 
portance. A wooden tramroad had been contem- 
plated when the first Act was applied for; but 
Stephenson having advised that an iron road should 
be laid down, he was instructed to draw up a 
specification of the rails. He went before the 
directors to discuss with them the kind of material 
to be specified. He was himself interested in the 
patent for cast-iron rails, which he had taken out in 
conjunction with Mr. Losh in 18 16; and, of course, 
it was to his interest that his articles should be 
used. But when requested to give his opinion on 
the subject, he frankly said to the directors, " Well, 
gentlemen, to tell you the truth, although it would 
put 500/. in my pocket to specify my own patent 
rails, I cannot do so after the experience I have had. 
If you take my advice, you will not lay down a 
single cast-iron rail." "Why?" asked the directors. 
"Because they will not stand the weight, and you 


will be at no end of expense for repairs and relays." 
" What kind of road, then," he was asked, " would 
you recommend?" "Malleable rails, certainly,'* 
said he ; " and I can recommend them with the 
more confidence from the fact that at Killingworth 
we have had some Swedish bars laid down — nailed 
to wooden sleepers — for a period of fourteen years, 
the waggons passing over them daily ; and there 
they are, in use yet, whereas the cast rails are 
constantly giving way." 

The price of malleable rails was, however, so 
high — being then worth about 12/. per ton as 
compared with cast-iron rails at about 5/. 105. — 
and the saving of expense was so important a con- 
sideration with the subscribers, that Stephenson 
was directed to provide, in the specification, that 
only one half of the rails required — or about 800 
tons — should be of malleable iron, and the re- 
mainder of cast-iron. The malleable rails were of 
the kind called "fish-bellied," and weighed 28 lbs. 
to the yard, being 2J inches broad at the top, with 
the upper flange ^ inch thick. They were only 2 
inches in depth at the points at which they rested on 
the chairs, and 3 J inches in the middle or bellied part. 

When forming the road, the proper gauge had 
also to be determined. What width was this to be? 
The gauge of the first tramroad laid down had 
virtually settled the point. The gauge of wheels 
of the common vehicles of the country — of the carts 
and waggons employed on common roads, which 
were first used on the tramroads — was about 4 feet 
Si inches. And so the first tramroads were laid 
down of this gauge. The tools and machinery for 
constructing coal-waggons and locomotives were 
formed with this gauge in view. The Wylam 


waggon-way, afterwards the Wylam plate-way, the 
Killingworth railroad, and the Hetton railroad, 
were as nearly as possible on the same gauge. 
Some of the earth-waggons used to form the Stock- 
ton and Darlington road were brought from the 
Hetton railway ; and others which were specially 
constructed were formed of the same dimensions, 
these being intended to be afterwards employed in 
the working of the traffic. 

As the period drew near for the opening of 
the line, the question of the tractive power to be 
employed was anxiously discussed. At the Brussel- 
ton incline, fixed engines must necessarily be made 
use of; but with respect to the mode of working 
the railway generally, it was decided that horses 
were to be largely employed, and arrangements 
were made for their purchase. The influence of 
Mr. Pease also secured that a fair trial should be 
given to the experiment of working the traffic by 
locomotive power ; and three engines were ordered 
from the firm of Stephenson and Co., Newcastle, 
which were put in hand forthwith, in anticipation 
of the opening of the railway. These were con- 
structed after Mr. Stephenson's most matured 
designs, and embodied all the improvements which 
he had contrived up to that time. No. I. engine, 
the "Locomotion," which was first delivered, 
weighed about eight tons. It had one large flue 
or tube through the boiler, by which the heated 
air passed direct from the furnace at one end, lined 
with fire-bricks, to the chimney at the other. The 
combustion in the furnace was quickened by the 
adoption of the steam-blast in the chimney. The 
heat raised was sometimes so great, and it was so 
imperfectly abstracted by the surrounding water, 


that the chimney became almost red-hot. Such 
engines, when put to their speed, were found 
capable of running at the rate of from twelve to 
sixteen miles an hour ; but they were better adapted 
for the heavy work of hauling coal-trains at low 
speeds — for which, indeed, they were specially con- 
structed — than for running at the higher speeds 
afterwards adopted. Nor was it contemplated by 
the directors as possible, at the time when they 
were ordered, that locomotives could be made 
available for the purposes of passenger travelling. 
Besides, the Stockton and Darlington Railway did 
not run through a district in which passengers were 
supposed to be likely to constitute any considerable 
portion of the traffic. 

We may easily imagine the anxiety felt by Mr. 
Stephenson during the progress of the works towards 
completion, and his mingled hopes and doubts 
(though his doubts were but few) as to the issue of 
this great experiment. When the formation of the 
line near Stockton was well advanced, Mr. Stephen- 
son one day, accompanied by his son Robert and 
John Dixon, made a journey of inspection of the 
works. The party reached Stockton, and proceeded 
to dine at one of the inns there. After dinner, 
Stephenson ventured on the very unusual measure 
of ordering in a bottle of wine, to drink success to 
the railway. John Dixon relates with pride the 
utterance of the master on the occasion. "Now, 
lads," said he to the two young men, "I venture 
to tell you that I think you will live to see the 
day when railways will supersede almost all other 
methods of conveyance in this country — when mail- 
coaches will go by railway, and railroads will become 
the great highway for the king and all his subjects. 


The time is coming when it will be cheaper for a 
working man to travel upon a railway than to walk 
on foot. I know there are great and almost insur- 
mountable difficulties to be encountered ; but what 
I have said will come to pass as sure as you live. 
I only wish I may live to see the day, though that 
I can scarcely hope for, as I know how slow all 
human progress is, and with what difficulty I have 
been able to get the locomotive thus far adopted, not- 
withstanding my more than ten years' successful 
experiment at Killingworth." The result, however, 
outstripped even the most sanguine anticipations 
of Stephenson; and his son Robert, shortly after 
his return from America in 1827, saw his father's 
locomotive generally employed as the tractive power 
on railways. 

The Stockton and Darlington line was opened 
for traffic on the 27th September, 1825. An immense 
concourse of people assembled from all parts to 
witness the ceremony of opening this first public rail- 
way. The powerful opposition which the project had 
encountered, the threats which were still uttered 
against the company by the road-trustees and others, 
who declared that they would yet prevent the line 
being worked, and perhaps the general unbelief as 
to its success which still prevailed, tended to excite 
the curiosity of the public as to the result. Some 
went to rejoice at the opening, some to see the 
"bubble burst"; and there were many prophets 
of evil who would not miss the blowing up of the 
boasted travelling engine. The opening was, how- 
ever, auspicious. The proceedings commenced at 
Brusselton Incline, about nine miles above Darling- 
ton, where the fixed engine drew a train of loaded 
waggons up the incline from the west, and lowered 

M 2 


them on the east side. At the foot of the incline 
a locomotive was in readiness to receive them, 
Stephenson himself driving the engine. The train 
consisted of six waggons loaded with coals and flour ; 
after these was the passenger-coach, filled with the 
directors and their friends, and then twenty-one 
waggons fitted up with temporary seats for 
passengers; and lastly came six waggon-loads of 
coals, making in all a train of thirty-eight vehicles. 
The local chronicler of the day almost went beside 
himself in describing the extraordinary event : — 
"The signal being given," he says, "the engine 
started off with this immense train of carriages ; and 
such was its velocity, that in some parts the speed 
was frequently 12 miles an hour!" By the time 
it reached Stockton there were about 600 persons 
in the train or hanging on to the waggons, which 
must have gone at a safe and steady pace of from 
four to six miles an hour from Darlington. " The 
arrival at Stockton," it is added, "excited a deep 
interest and admiration." 

The working of the line then commenced, and 
the results were such as to surprise even the most 
sanguine of its projectors. The traffic upon which 
they had formed their estimates of profit proved to 
be small in comparison with that which flowed in 
upon them which they had never dreamt of Thus, 
what the company had principally relied upon for 
their receipts was the carriage of coals for land sale 
at the stations along the line, whereas the haulage 
of coals to the seaports for exportation to the London 
market was not contemplated as possible. When 
the bill was before Parliament, Mr. Lambton (after- 
wards Earl of Durham) succeeded in getting a clause 
inserted, limiting the charge for the haulage of all 


coal to Stockton-on-Tees for the purpose of shipment 
to id, per ton per mile; whereas a rate of 4^. per ton 
was allowed to be taken for all coals led upon the 
railway for land sale. Mr. Lambton's object in en- 
forcing the low rate of id. was to protect his own 
trade in coal exported from Sunderland and the 
northern ports. He believed, in common with every- 
body else, that the id. rate would effectually secure 
him against competition on the part of the Company ; 
for it was not considered possible to lead coals at that 
price, and the proprietors of the railway themselves 
considered that such a rate would be utterly ruinous. 
The projectors never contemplated sending more 
than 10,000 tons a year to Stockton, and those only 
for shipment as ballast ; they looked for their profits 
almost exclusively to the land sale. The result, 
however, was as surprising to them as it must have 
been to Mr. Lambton. The id. rate which was 
forced upon them, instead of being ruinous, proved 
the vital element in the success of the railway. In 
the course of a few years, the annual shipment of 
coal, led by the Stockton and Darlington Railway 
to Stockton and Middlesborough, was more than 
500,000 tons ; and it has since far exceeded this 
amount Instead of being, as anticipated, a sub- 
ordinate branch of traffic, it proved, in fact, the 
main traffic, while the land sale was merely 

The anticipations of the company as to passenger 
traffic were in like manner more than realised. At 
first, passengers were not thought of; and it was 
only while the works were in progress that the 
starting of a passenger coach was seriously contem- 
plated. The number of persons travelling between 
the two towns was very small ; and it was not known 


whether these would risk their persons upon the iron 
road. It was determined, however, to make trial of 
a railway coach ; and Mr. Stephenson was authorised 
to have one built at Newcastle, at the cost of the 
company. This was done accordingly ; and the first 
railway passenger carriage was built after our 
engineer's design. It was, however, a very modest, 
and indeed a somewhat uncouth machine, more 
resembling the caravans still to be seen at country 

The Fist Railway Coach. 

fairs containing the " Giant and the Dwarf" and other 
wonders of the world, than a passenger-coach of any 
extant form, A row of seats ran along each side of 
the interior, and a long deal table was fixed in the 
centre ; the access being by means of a door at the 
back end, in the manner of an omnibus. This coach 
arrived from Newcastle the day before the opening, 
and formed part of the railway procession above 
described. Mr. Stephenson was consulted as to the 


name of the coach, and he at once suggested "The 
Experiment " ; and by this name it was called. The 
Company's arms were afterwards painted on her side, 
with the motto " Periculum privatum utilitas publica." 
Such was the sole passenger-carrying stock of the 
Stockton and Darlington Company in the year 1825. 
But the " Experiment " proved the forerunner of a 
mighty traffic : and long time did not elapse before 
it was displaced, not only by improved coaches 
(still drawn by horses), but afterwards by long 
trains of passenger carriages drawn by locomotive 

" The Experiment " was fairlj'' started as a pas- 
senger-coach on the loth October, 1825, a fortnight 
after the opening of the line. It was drawn by 
one horse, and performed a journey daily each way 
between the two towns, accomplishing the distance 
of twelve miles in about two hours. The fare 
charged was a shilling without distinction of class ; 
and each passenger was allowed fourteen pounds 
of luggage free. " The Experiment " was not, 
however, worked by the company, but was let to 
contractors who worked it under an arrangement 
whereby toll was paid for the use of the line, rent 
of booking-cabins, &c. 

The speculation answered so well, that several 
private coaching companies were shortly after 
got up by innkeepers at Darlington and Stockton, 
for the purpose of running other coaches upon 
the railroad ; and an active competition for passenger 
traffic sprang up. " The Experiment " being 
found too heavy for one horse to draw, besides 
being found an uncomfortable machine, was banished 
to the coal district. Its place was then supplied by 
other and better vehicles, — though they were no 


Other than old stage-coach bodies purchased by the 
company, and each mounted upon an underframe 
with flange-wheels. These were let on hire to the 
coaching companies, who horsed and managed them 
under an arrangement as to tolls, in like manner as 
the " Experiment " had been worked. Now began 
the distinction of inside and outside passengers, 
equivalent to first and second class, paying different 
fares. The competition with each other upon the 
railway, and with the ordinary stage-coaches upon 
the road, soon brought up the speed, which was 
increased to ten miles an hour — the mail-coach rate 
of travelling in those days, and considered very 

Mr. Clephan, a native of the district, has described 
some of the curious features of the competition 
between the rival coach companies : — ** There were 
two separate coach companies in Stockton, and 
amusing collisions sometimes occurred between the 
drivers — who found on the rail a novel element for 
contention. Coaches cannot pass each other on the 
rail as on the road ; and, as the line was single, with 
four sidings in the mile, when two coaches met, 
or two trains, or coach and train, the question arose 
which of the drivers must go back ? This was not 
always settled in silence. As to trains, it came to 
be a sort of understanding that empty should give 
way to loaded waggons ; and as to trains and 
coaches, that the passengers should have preference 
over coals; while coaclies, when they met, must 
quarrel it out. At length, midway between sidings, 
a post was erected, and a rule was laid down that 
he who had passed the pillar must go on, and the 
' coming man ' go back. At the Goose Pool and 
Early Nook, it was common for these coaches to 


Stop ; and there, as Jonathan would say, passengers 
and coachmen 'liquored/ One coach, introduced 
by an innkeeper, was a compound of two mourning- 
coaches, — an approximation to the real railway- 
coach, which still adheres, with multiplying 
exceptions, to the stage-coach type. One Dixon, 
who drove the * Experiment ' between Darlington 
and Shildon, is the inventor of carriage-lighting 
on the rail. On a dark winter night, having com- 
passion on his passengers, he would buy a penny 
candle, and place it lighted amongst them on the 
table of the * Experiment ' — the first railway-coach 
(which, by the way, ended its days at Shildon as 
a railway cabin), being also the first coach on the 
rail (first, second, and third class jammed all into 
one) that indulged its customers with light in 

The traffic of all sorts increased so steadily and 
so rapidly that considerable difficulty was experi- 
enced in working it satisfactorily. It had been 
provided by the first Stockton and Darlington Act 
that the line should be free to all parties who chose 
to use it at certain prescribed rates, and that any 
person might put horses and waggons on the rail- 
way, and carry for himself. But this arrangement 
led to increasing confusion and difficulty, and could 
not continue in the face of a large and rapidly- 
increasing traffic. The goods trains got s6 long 
that the carriers found it necessary to call in the aid 
of the locomotive engine to help them on their way. 
Then mixed trains of passengers and merchandise 
began to run ; and the result was that the railway 
company found it necessary to take the entire charge 
and working of the traffic. In course of time new 
coaches were specially built for the better accom- 



modation of the public, until at length regular 
passenger-trains were run, drawn by the locomotive 
engine, — though this was not until after the Liver- 
pool and Manchester Company had established this 
as a distinct branch of their traffic. 

The three Stephenson locomotives were from 
the first regularly employed to work the coal trains ; 
and their proved efficiency for this purpose led 


The No. I Engine at Darlingtoa. 

to the gradual increase of the locomotive power. 
The speed of the engines — slow though it seems 
now — was in those days regarded as something 
marvellous. A race actually came off between 
No. I. engine, the " Locomotion," and one of the 
stage-coaches travelling from Darlington to Stockton 
by the ordinary road; and it was regarded as 
a great triumph of mechanical skill that the loco- 


motive reached Stockton first, beating the stage- 
coach by about a hundred yards ! The same engine 
continued in good working order in the year 1846, 
when it headed the railway procession on the 
opening of the Middlesborough and Redcar Railway, 
travelling at the rate of about fourteen miles an hour. 
This engine, the first that travelled upon the first 
public railway, has recently been placed upon 
a pedestal in front of the railway station at 

For some years, however, the principal haulage 
of the line was performed by horses. The inclina- 
tion of the gradients being towards the sea, this 
was perhaps the cheapest mode of traction, so long 
as the traffic was not very large. The horse drew 
the train along the level road, until, on reaching 
a descending gradient, down which the train ran 
by its own gravity, the animal was unharnessed, 
and, when loose, he wheeled round to the other 
end of the waggons, to which a "dandy-cart" 
was attached, its bottom being only a few 
inches from the rail. Bringing his step into 
unison with the speed of the train, the horse 
learnt to leap nimbly into his place in this waggon, 
which was usually fitted with a well-filled hay- 

The details of the working were gradually 
perfected by experience, the projectors of the line 
being scarcely conscious at first of the importance 
and significance of the work which they had taken 
in hand, and little thinking that they were laying 
the foundations of a system which was yet to 
revolutionise the internal communications of the 
world, and confer the greatest blessings on man- 
kind. It is important to note that the commercial 


results of the enterprise were considered satisfac- 
tory from the opening of the railway. Besides 
conferring a great public benefit upon the inhabi- 
tants of the district and throwing open entirely 
new markets for coal, the profits derived from 
the traffic created by the railway yielded increasing 
dividends to those who had risked their capital 
in the undertaking, and thus held forth an encourage- 
ment to the projectors of railways generally, which 
was not without an important effect in stimulating 
the projection of similar enterprises in other 
districts. These results, as displayed in the annual 
dividends, must have been eminently encouraging 
to the astute commercial men of Liverpool and 
Manchester, who were then engaged in the prose- 
cution of their railway. Indeed, the commercial 
success of the Stockton and Darlington Company 
may be justly characterised as the turning-point 
of the railway system. 

Before leaving this subject, we cannot avoid 
alluding to one of its most remarkable and direct 
results — the creation of the town of Middles- 
borough-on-Tees. When the railway was opened 
in 1825, the site of this future metropolis of 
Cleveland was occupied by one solitary farmhouse 
and its outbuildings. All round was pasture-land 
or mud-banks ; scarcely another house was within 
sight. In 1829 some of the principal proprietors 
of the railway joined in the purchase of about 500 
or 600 acres of land five miles below Stockton — 
the site of the modern Middlesborough — for the 
purpose of there forming a new seaport for the 
shipment of coals brought to the Tees by the 
railway. The line was accordingly extended 
thither; docks were excavated; a town sprang 


up ; churches, chapels, and schools were built, with 
a custom-house, mechanics' institute, banks, ship- 
building yards, and iron-factories. In ten years 
a busy population of some 6000 persons (since 
increased to about 23,000) occupied the site of 
the original farmhouse.* More recently, the dis- 
covery of vast stores of ironstone in the Cleve- 
land Hills, closely adjoining Middlesborough, has 
tended still more rapidly to augment the population 
and increase the commercial importance of the 

It is pleasing to relate, in connexion with this 
great work — the Stockton and Darlington Railway, 
projected by Edward Pease and executed by George 
Stephenson — that when Mr. Stephenson became a 
prosperous and a celebrated man, he did not forget 
the friend who had taken him by the hand, and 
helped him on in his early days. He continued to 

* Middlesborough does not furnish the only instance of the 
extraordinary increase of p)opulation in certain localities, occasioned 
by railways. Hartlepool, in the same neighbourhood, has in thirty 
years increased from 1330 to above 15,000 ; and Stockton-on-Tees 
from 7763 to above 16,000. In 1831 Crewe was a little village with 
295 inhabitants : it now numbers upwards of 10,000. Rugby and 
Swindon have quadrupled their population in the same time. The 
railway has been the making of Southampton, and added 30,000 to 
its formerly small number of inhabitants. In like manner the rail- 
way has taken London to the seaside, and increased the population 
of Brighton from 40,000 to nearly 100,000. That of Folkestone has 
been trebled. New and populous suburbs have sprung up all 
round London. The population of Stratford-le-Bow and West 
Ham was 11,580 in 1831 ; it is now nearly 40,000. Reigate has 
been trebled in size, and Redhill has been created by the railway. 
Blackheath, Forest Hill, Sydenham, New Cross, Wimbledon, and 
a number of populous places round London, may almost be said to 
have sprung into existence since the extension of railways to them 
within the last thirty years. 



[chap VIII 

remember Mr. Pease with gratitude and affection, 
and that gentleman, to the close of his life, was 
proud to exhibit a handsome gold watch, received 
as a gift from his celebrated protege^ bearing these 
words : — ** Esteem and gratitude : from George 
Stephenson to Edward Pease." 





The rapid growth of the trade and manufactures 
of South Lancashire gave rise, about the year 1821, 
to the project of a tramroad for the conveyance 
of goods between Liverpool and Manchester. 
Since the construction of the Bridgewater Canal 
by Brindley, some fifty years before, the increase 
in the business transacted between the two towns 
had become quite marvellous. The steam-engine, 
the spinning-jenny, and the canal, working together, 
had accumulated in one focus a vast aggregate 
of population, manufactures, and trade. 

Such was the expansion of business caused 
by the inventions to which we have referred, that 
the navigation was found altogether inadequate to 
accommodate the traffic, which completely outgrew 
all the Canal Companies' appliances of wharves, 
boats, and horses. Cotton lay at Liverpool for 
weeks together, waiting to be removed ; and it 
occupied a longer time to transport the cargoes 
from Liverpool to Manchester than it had done 
to bring them across the Atlantic from the United 
States to England. Carts and waggons were tried, 
but proved altogether insufficient. Sometimes 
manufacturing operations had to be suspended 


altogether, and during a frost, when the canals 
were frozen up, the communication was entirely 
stopped. The consequences were often disastrous, 
alike to operatives, merchants, and manufacturers. 

Expostulation with the Canal Companies was 
of no use. They were overcrowded with business 
at their own prices, and disposed to be very dic- 
tatorial. When the Duke first constructed his 
canal, he had to encounter the fierce opposition 
of the Irwell and Mersey Navigation, whose 
monopoly his new line of water conveyance 
threatened to interfere with.* But the innovation 
of one generation often becomes the obstruction 
of the next. The Duke's agents would scarcely 
listen to the remonstrances of the Liverpool 
merchants and Manchester manufacturers, and 
the Bridgewater Canal was accordingly, in its turn, 
denounced as a monopoly. 

Under these circumstances, any new mode of 
transit between the two towns which offered a 
reasonable prospect of relief was certain to receive 
a cordial welcome. The scheme of a tramroad was, 
however, so new and comparatively untried, that 
it is not surprising that the parties interested 
should have hesitated before committing themselves 
to it. Mr. Sandars, a Liverpool merchant, was 
amongst the first to broach the subject. He had 
suffered in his business, in common with many 
others, from the insufficiency of the existing modes 
of communication, and was ready to give consider- 
ation to any plan presenting elements of practical 
efficiency which proposed a remedy for the generally 
admitted grievance. Having caused inquiry to be 

* Lives of the Engineers, vol. i. p. 371. 


made as to the success which had attended the 
haulage of heavy coal-trains by locomotive power 
on the northern railways, he was led to the opinion 
that the same means might be equally efficient in 
conducting the increasing traffic in merchandise 
between Liverpool and Manchester. He ventilated 
the subject amongst his friends, and about the begin- 
ning of 1 82 1 a committee was formed for the purpose 
of bringing the scheme of a railroad before the 

The novel project having become noised abroad, 
attracted the attention of the friends of railways in 
other quarters. Tramroads were by no means new 
expedients for the transit of heavy articles. The 
Croydon and Wandsworth Railway, laid down by 
William Jessop as early as the year i8oi,had been 
regularly used for the conveyance of lime and stone 
in waggons hauled by mules or donkeys from 
Merstham to London. The sight of this humble 
railroad in 181 3 led Sir Richard Phillips in his 
'Morning Walk to Kew' to anticipate the great 
advantages which would be derived by the nation 
from the general adoption of Blenkinsop*s engine 
for the conveyance of mails and passengers at ten 
or even fifteen miles an hour. In the same year 
we find Mr. Lovell Edgworth, who had for fifty 
years been advocating the superiority of tram or 
rail roads over common roads, writing to James 
Watt (7th August, 181 3): "I have always thought 
that steam would become the universal lord, and 
that we should in time scorn post-horses ; an iron 
railroad would be a cheaper thing than a road upon 
the common construction." 

Thomas Gray, of Nottingham, was another 
speculator on the same subject. Though he was 

V. N 


no mechanic nor inventor, he had an enthusiastic 
belief in the powers of the railroad system. Being 
a native of Leeds, he had, when a boy, seen Blen- 
kinsop's locomotive at work on the Middleton 
cogged railroad, and from an early period he seems 
to have entertained almost as sanguine views on 
the subject as Sir Richard Phillips. It would 
appear that Gray was residing in Brussels in 1816, 
when the project of a canal from Charleroi, for the 
purpose of connecting Holland with the mining 
districts of Belgium, was the subject of discussion ; 
and, in conversation with Mr. John Cockerill and 
others, he took the opportunity of advocating the 
superior advantages of a railway. He was ab- 
sorbed for some time with the preparation of 
a pamphlet on the subject. He shut himself up, 
secluded from his wife and relations, declining 
to give them any information as to his mysterious 
studies, beyond the assurance that his scheme 
** would revolutionise the whole face of the material 
world and of society." In 1820 Mr. Gray published 
the result of his studies in his * Observations on 
a General Iron Railway,* in which, with great 
cogency, he urged the superiority of a locomotive 
railway over common roads and canals, pointing 
out, at the same time, the advantages to all classes 
of the community of this mode of conveyance for 
merchandise and persons. In this book Mr. Gray 
suggested a railway between Manchester and Liver- 
pool, ** which," he observed, " would employ many 
thousands of the distressed population of Lanca- 
shire." The treatise must have met with a ready 
sale, as we find that two years later it had passed 
into a fourth edition. In 1822 Mr. Gray added 
diagrams to the book, showing, in one, suggested 


lines of railway connecting the principal towns of 
England, and in another, the principal towns of 

These speculations show that the subject of 
railways was gradually becoming familiar to the 
public mind, and that thoughtful men were antici- 
pating with confidence the adoption of steam-power 
for the purposes of railway traction. At the same 
time, a still more profitable class of labourers was 
at work — first, men like Stephenson, who were 
engaged in improving the locomotive, and making 
it a practicable and economical working power ; and 
next, those like Edward Pease of Darlington, and 
Joseph Sandars of Liverpool, who were organising 
the means of laying down the railways. Mr. 
William James, of West Bromwich, belonged to the 
active class of projectors. He was a man of con- 
siderable social influence, of an active temperament, 
and had from an early period taken a warm interest 
in the formation of tramroads. Acting as land-agent 
for gentlemen of property in the mining districts, 
he had laid down several tramroads in the neigh- 
bourhood of Birmingham, Gloucester, and Bristol ; 
and he published many pamphlets urging their 
formation in other places. At one period of his life 
he was a large iron manufacturer. The times, 
however, went against him. It was thought he was 
too bold, some considered him even reckless, in his 
speculations ; and he lost almost his entire fortune. 
He continued to follow the business of a land-agent, 
and it was while engaged in making a survey for 
one of his clients in the neighbourhood of Liverpool 
early in 1821, that he first heard of the project of 
a railway between that town and Manchester. He 
at once called upon Mr. Sandars, and offered his 

N 2 


services as surveyor of the proposed line, and his 
offer was accepted. 

A trial survey was then begun, but it was con- 
ducted with great difficulty, the inhabitants of the 
district entertaining the most violent prejudices 
against the scheme. In some places Mr. James 
and his surveying party even encountered personal 
violence. The farmers stationed men at the field- 
gates with pitchforks, and sometimes with guns, to 

Map of Liverpool and Manchester Railway. (Western Part.) 

drive them back. At St. Helen's, one of the chainmen 
was laid hold of by a mob of colliers, and threatened 
to be hurled down a coal-pit. A number of men, 
women, and children, collected and ran after the 
surveyors wherever they made their appearance, 
bawling nicknames and throwing stones at them. 
As one of the chainmen was climbing over a gate 
one day, a labourer made at him with a pitchfork, 
and ran it through his clothes into his back ; other 
watchers running up, the chainman, who was more 




Stunned than hurt, took to his heels and fled. But 
that mysterious-looking instrument — the theodolite 
— most excited the fury of the natives, who concen- 
trated on the man who carried it their fiercest 
execrations and most offensive nicknames. 

A powerful fellow, a noted bruiser, was hired by 
the surveyors to carry the instrument, with a view 
to its protection against all assailants ; but one day 
an equally powerful fellow, a St. Helen's collier. 

Map of Liverpool and Manchester Railway. (Eastern Part.) 

cock of the walk in his neighbourhood, made up to 
the theodolite bearer to wrest it from him by sheer 
force. A battle took place, the collier was soundly 
pummelled, but the natives poured in volleys of 
stones upon the surveyors and their instruments, 
and the theodolite was smashed to pieces. 

An outline-survey having at length been made, 
notices were published of an intended application 
to Parliament. In the mean time Mr. James 
proceeded to Killingworth to see Stephenson's loco- 

1 82 James's visit to killingworth [chap ix 

motives at work. Stephenson was not at home 
at the time, but James saw his engines, and was 
very much struck by their power and efficiency. 
He saw at a glance the magnificent uses to which 
the locomotive might be applied. " Here," said he, 
"is an engine that will, before long, effect a 
complete revolution in society." Returning to 
Moreton-in-the-Marsh, he wrote to Mr. Losh 
(Stephenson's partner in the patent) expressing his 
admiration of the Killingworth engine. "It is," 
said he, " the greatest wonder of the age, and the fore- 
runner, as I firmly believe, of the most important 
changes in the internal communications of the 
kingdom." Shortly after, Mr. James, accompanied 
by his two sons, made a second journey to Killing- 
worth, where he met both Losh and Stephenson. 
The visitors were at once taken to where the 
locomotive was working, and invited to mount it. 
The uncouth and extraordinary appearance of the 
machine, as it came snorting along, was somewhat 
alarming to the youths, who expressed their fears 
lest it should burst; and they were with some 
difficulty induced to mount. 

The engine went through its usual performances, 
dragging a heavy load of coal-waggons at about 
six miles an hour, with apparent ease, at which 
Mr. James expressed his extreme satisfaction, and 
declared to Mr. Losh his opinion that Stephenson 
**was the greatest practical genius of the age," and 
that, " if he developed the full powers of that engine 
(the locomotive), his fame in the world would rank 
equal with that of Watt." Mr. James informed 
Stephenson and Losh of his survey of the proposed 
tramroad between Liverpool and Manchester, and did 
not hesitate to state that he would thenceforward 


advocate the construction of a locomotive railroad 
instead of the tramroad which had originally been 

Stephenson and Losh were naturally desirous 
of enlisting James's good services on behalf of 
their patent locomotive, for as yet it had proved 
comparatively unproductive. They believed that 
he might be able so to advocate it in influential 
quarters as to ensure its more extensive adoption, 
and with this object they proposed to give him an 
interest in the patent. Accordingly they assigned 
him one-fourth of any profits which might be derived 
from the use of the patent locomotive on any 
railways constructed south of a line drawn across 
England from Liverpool to Hull. The arrangement, 
however, led to no beneficial results. Mr. James 
endeavoured to introduce the engine on the More- 
ton-on-Marsh railway; but it was opposed by 
the engineer of the line, and the attempt failed. 
He next urged that a locomotive should be sent for 
trial upon the Merstham tramroad; but, anxious 
though Stephenson was respecting its extended 
employment, he was too cautious to risk an experi- 
ment which might only bring discredit upon the 
engine; and the Merstham road being only laid 
with cast-iron plates, which would not bear its 
weight, the invitation was declined. 

It turned out that the first survey of the Liver- 
pool and Manchester line was very imperfect, and 
it was determined to have a second and more com- 
plete one made in the following year. Robert 
Stephenson was sent over by his father to Liver- 
pool to assist in this survey. He was present with 
Mr. James on the occasion on which he tried to lay 
out the line across Chat Moss,— a proceeding which 


was not only difficult but dangerous. The Moss 
was very wet at the time, and only its edges could 
be ventured on. Mr. James was a heavy, thick-set 
man ; and one day, when endeavouring to obtain a 
stand for his theodolite, he felt himself suddenly 
sinking. He immediately threw himself down, and 
rolled over and over until he reached firm ground 
again, in a sad mess. Other attempts which he 
subsequently made to enter upon the Moss for the 
same purpose, were abandoned for the same reason 
— the want of a solid stand for the theodolite. 

On the 4th October, 1822, we fiad Mr. James 
writing to Mr. Sandars, " I came last night to send 
my aid, Robert Stephenson, to his father, and to- 
morrow I shall pay off Evans and Hamilton, two 
other assistants. I have now only Messrs. Padley 
and Clarke to finish the copy of plans for Parlia- 
ment, which will be done in about a week or nine 
days' time." It would appear however, that, not- 
withstanding all his exertions, Mr. James was 
unable to complete his plans and estimates in time 
for the ensuing Session ; and another year was 
thus lost. The Railroad Committee became im- 
patient at the delay. Mr. James's financial em- 
barrassments reached their climax ; and, what with 
illness and debt, he was no longer in a position to 
fulfil his promises to the Committee. They were, 
therefore, under the necessity of calling to their aid 
some other engineer. 

Mr. Sandars had by this time visited George 
Stephenson at Killingworth, and, like all who came 
within reach of his personal influence, was charmed 
with him at first sight. The energy which he had 
displayed in carrying on the works of the Stockton 
and Darlington Railway, now approaching com- 


pletion ; his readiness to face difficulties, and his 
practical ability in overcoming them ; the enthusiasm 
which he displayed on the subject of railways and 
railway locomotion, — concurred in satisfying Mr. 
Sandars that he was, of all men, the best calculated 
to help forward the Liverpool undertaking at this 
juncture. On his return he stated this opinion to 
the Committee, who approved his recommendation, 
and George Stephenson was unanimously appointed 
engineer of the projected railway. 

It will be observed that Mr. Sandars had held to 
his original purpose with great determination and 
perseverance, and he gradually succeeded in enlist- 
ing on his side an increasing number of influential 
merchants and manufacturers both at Liverpool and 
Manchester. Early in 1824 he published a pamphlet, 
in which he strongly urged the great losses and 
interruptions to the trade of the district by the 
delays in the forwarding . of merchandise ; and in 
the same year he had a Public Declaration drawn 
up, and signed by upwards of 150 of the principal 
merchants of Liverpool, setting forth that they con- 
sidered **the present establishments for the trans- 
port of goods quite inadequate, and that a new line 
of conveyance has become absolutely necessary to 
conduct the increasing trade of the country with 
speed, certainty, and economy." 

A public meeting was then held to consider the 
best plan to be adopted, and resolutions were 
passed in favour of a railroad. A committee was 
appointed to take the necessary measures; but, as 
if reluctant to enter upon their arduous struggle 
with the "vested interests," they first waited on 
Mr. Bradshaw, the Duke of Bridgewater's canal 
agent, in the hope of persuading him to increase 


the means of conveyance, as well as to reduce the 
charges; but they were met by an unqualified 
refusal. They suggested the expediency of a rail- 
way, and invited Mr. Bradshaw to become a 
proprietor of shares in it. But his reply was — ** All 
or none ! " The canal proprietors, confident in their 
imagined security, ridiculed the proposed railway 
as a chimera. It had been spoken about years 
before and nothing had come of it then : it would be 
the same now. 

In order to form ^ better opinion as to the 
practicability of the railroad, a deputation of gentle- 
men interested in the project proceeded to Killing- 
worth, to inspect the engines which had been so 
long in use there. They first went to Darlington, 
where they found the works of the Stockton line in 
progress, though still unfinished. Proceeding next 
to Killingworth with Mr. Stephenson, they there 
witnessed the performances of his locomotive 
engines. The result of their visit was, on the whole, 
so satisfactory, that on their report being delivered 
to the committee at Liverpool, it was finally deter- 
mined to form a company of proprietors for the 
construction of a double line of railway between 
Liverpool and Manchester. 

The first prospectus of the scheme was dated the 
29th October, 1824, and had attached to it the names 
of the leading merchants of Liverpool and Manchester. 
It was a modest document, very unlike the inflated 
balloons which were sent up by railway speculators 
in succeeding years. It set forth as its main object 
the establishment of a safe and cheap mode of transit 
for merchandise, by which the conveyance of goods 
between the two towns would be effected in 5 or 
6 hours (instead of 36 hours by the canal), whilst 


the charges would be reduced one-third. On looking 
at the prospectus now, it is curious to note that, 
while the advantages anticipated from the carriage 
of merchandise were strongly insisted upon, the 
convej'^ance of passengers — which proved to be the 
chief source of profit — was only very cautiously 
referred to. ''As a cheap and expeditious means 
of conveyance for travellers," says the prospectus in 
conclusion, ** the railway holds out the fair prospect 
of a public accommodation, the magnitude and im- 
portance of which cannot be immediately ascer- 
tained." The estimated expense of forming the line 
was set down at 400,000/., — a sum which was even- 
tually found quite inadequate. The subscription 
list when opened was filled up without difficulty. 

While the project was still under discussion, its 
promoters, desirous of removing the doubts which 
existed as to the employment of steam power on 
the proposed railway, sent a second deputation to 
Killing^orth for the purpose of again observing 
the action of Stephenson's p ngines. The cautious 
projectors of the railway were not yet quite satisfied ; 
and a third journey was made to Killing^orth, in 
January, 1825, by several gentlemen of the com- 
mittee, accompanied by practical engineers, for the 
purpose of being personal eye-witnesses of what 
steam-carriages were able to perform upon a rail- 
way. There they saw a train, consisting of a 
locomotive and loaded waggons, weighing in all 54 
tons, travelling at the average rate of about 7 miles 
an hour, the greatest speed being about gi miles an 
hour. But when the engine was run with only one 
waggon attached containing twenty gentlemen, five 
of whom were engineers, the speed attained was 
from 10 to 12 miles an hour. 


In the mean time the survey was proceeded with, 
in the face of great opposition from the proprietors 
of the lands through which the railway was intended 
to pass. The prejudices of the farming and labour- 
ing classes were strongly excited against the persons 
employed upon the ground, and it was with the 
greatest difficulty that the levels could be taken. At 
one place, Stephenson was driven off the ground by 
the keepers, and threatened to be ducked in the 
pond if found there again. The farmers also turned 
out their men to watch the surveying party, and 
prevent them entering upon any lands where they 
had the power of driving them off. 

One of the proprietors declared that he would 
order his gamekeepers to shoot or apprehend any 
persons attempting a survey over his property. 
But one moonlight night a survey was obtained 
by the following ruse. Some men, under the 
orders of the surveying party, were set to fire off 
guns in a particular quarter; on which all the 
gamekeepers on the watch made off in that 
direction, and they were drawn away to such a 
distance in pursuit of the supposed poachers, as 
to enable a rapid survey to be made during their 

When the canal companies found that the 
Liverpool merchants were determined to proceed 
with their scheme — that they had completed their 
survey, and were ready to apply to Parliament for 
an Act to enable them to form the railway — they 
at last reluctantly, and with a bad grace, made 
overtures of conciliation. They promised to 
employ steam-vessels both on the Mersey and 
on the Canal. One of the companies offered to 
reduce its length by three miles, at a considerable 


outlay. At the same time they made a show of 
lowering their rates. But it was too late ; for the 
project of the railway had now gone so far that the 
promoters (who might have been conciliated by 
such overtures at an earlier period) felt they were 
fully committed to it, and that now they could not 
well draw back. Besides, the remedies offered by 
the canal companies could only have had the effect 
of staving off the difficulty for a brief season, — 
the absolute necessity of forming a new line of 
communication between Liverpool and Manchester 
becoming more urgent from year to year. Arrange- 
ments were therefore made for proceeding with 
the bill in the parliamentary session of 1825. 

On this becoming known, the canal companies 
prepared to resist the measure tooth and nail. 
The public were appealed to on the subject ; 
pamphlets were written and newspapers were hired 
to revile the railway. It was declared that its 
formation would prevent cows grazing and hens 
laying. The poisoned air from the locomotives 
would kill birds as they flew over them, and render 
the preservation of pheasants and foxes no longer 
possible. Householders adjoining the projected 
line were told that their houses would be burnt 
up by the fire thrown from the engine-chimneys; 
while the air around would be polluted by clouds 
of smoke. There would no longer be any use for 
horses ; and if railways extended, the species would 
become extinguished, and oats and hay be rendered 
unsaleable commodities. Travelling by rail would 
be highly dangerous and country inns would be 
ruined. Boilers would burst and blow passengers 
to atoms. But there was always this consolation 
to wind up with — that the weight of the locomotive 

ipo Stephenson's INTERVIEWS WITH COUNSEL [chapix 

would completely prevent its moving, and that 
railways, even if made, could never be worked by 
steam power. 

Indeed when Mr. Stephenson, at the interviews 
with counsel, held previous to the Liverpool and 
Manchester bill going into Committee of the House 
of Commons, confidently stated his expectation of 
being able to impel his locomotive at the rate of 
20 miles an hour, Mr. William Brougham, who 
was retained by the promoters to conduct their 
case, frankly told him that if he did not moderate 
his views and bring his engine within a reasonable 
speed, he would " inevitably damn the whole thing, 
and be himself regarded as a maniac fit only for 

The idea thrown out by Stephenson, of travel- 
ling at a rate of speed double that of the fastest 
mail-coach, appeared at the time so preposterous 
that he was unable to find any engineer who would 
risk his reputation in supporting such '* absurd 
views." Speaking of his isolation at the time, 
he subsequently observed, at a public meeting 
of railway men in Manchester : ** He remembered 
the time when he had very few supporters in 
bringing out the railway system — when he sought 
England over for an engineer to support him in 
his evidence before Parliament, and could find only 
one man, James Walker, but was afraid to call that 
gentleman, because he knew nothing about railways. 
He had then no one to tell his tale to but Mr. 
Sandars, of Liverpool, who did listen to him, and 
kept his spirits up ; and his schemes had at length 
been carried out only by dint of sheer perseverance." 

George Stephenson's idea was at that time 
regarded as but the dream of a chimerical projector. 


It stood before the public friendless, struggling 
hard to gain a footing, scarcely daring to lift itself 
into notice for fear of ridicule. The civil engineers 
generally rejected the notion of a Locomotive Rail- 
way ; and when no leading man of the day could be 
found to stand forward in support of the Killing- 
worth mechanic, its chances of success must indeed 
have been pronounced but small. 

When such was the hostility of the civil en- 
gineers, no wonder the reviewers were puzzled 
The 'Quarterly,' in an able article in support of 
the projected Liverpool and Manchester Railway, — 
while admitting its absolute necessity, and insisting 
that there was no choice left but a railroad, on 
which the journey between Liverpool and Manches- 
ter, whether performed by horses or engines, would 
always be accomplished "within the day," — never- 
theless scouted the idea of travelling at a greater 
speed than eight or nine miles an hour. Adverting 
to a project for forming a railway to Woolwich, by 
which passengers were to be drawn by locomotive 
engines, moving with twice the velocity of ordinary 
coaches, the reviewer observed:— "What can be 
more palpably absurd and ridiculous than the 
prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice as 
fast as stage-coaches ! We would as soon expect 
the people of Woolwich to suffer themselves to be 
fired off upon one of Congreve's ricochet rockets, as 
trust themselves to the mercy of such a machine 
going at such a rate. We will back old Father 
Thames against the Woolwich Railway for any 
sum. We trust that Parliament will in all railways 
it may sanction, limit the speed to eight or nine miles 
an hour, which we entirely agree with Mr. Sylvester 
is as great as can be ventured on with safety." 


At length the survey was completed, the plans 
were deposited, the requisite preliminary arrange- 
ments were made, and the promoters of the scheme 
applied to Parliament for the necessary powers to 
construct the railway. The Bill went into Com- 
mittee of the Commons on the 21st of March, 1825. 
There was an extraordinary array of legal talent 
on the occasion, but especially on the side of the 
opponents to the measure; their counsel including 
Mr. (afterwards Baron) Alderson, Mr. (afterwards 
Baron) Parke, Mr. Harrison, and Mr. Erie. The 
counsel for the bill were Mr. Adam, Mr. Serjeant 
Spankie, Mr. William Brougham, and Mr. Joy. 

Evidence was taken at great length as to the 
difficulties and delays in forwarding raw material of 
all kinds from Liverpool to Manchester, as also 
in the conveyance of manufactured goods from 
Manchester to Liverpool. The evidence adduced in 
support of the bill on these grounds was over- 
whelming. The utter inadequacy of the existing 
modes of conveyance to carry on satisfactorily the 
large and rapidly-growing trade between the two 
tow:ns was fully proved. But then came the gist of 
the promoter's case — the evidence to prove the 
practicability of a railroad to be worked by loco- 
motive power. Mr. Adam, in his opening speech, 
referred to the cases of the Hetton and the Killing- 
worth railroads, where heavy goods were safely 
and economically transported by means of loco- 
motive engines. "None of the tremendous conse- 
quences," he observed, " have ensued from the use 
of steam in land carriage that have been stated. 
The horses have not started, nor the cows ceased 
to give their milk, nor have ladies miscarried at the 
sight of these things going forward at the rate of 


four miles and a half an hour." Notwithstanding 
the petition of two ladies alleging the great danger 
to be apprehended from the bursting of the loco- 
motive boilers, he urged the safety of the high- 
pressure engine when the boilers were constructed 
of wrought-iron ; and as to the rate at which they 
could travel, he expressed his full conviction that 
such engines "could supply force to drive a 
carriage at the rate of five or six miles an hour." 

The taking of the evidence as to the impediments 
thrown in the way of trade and commerce by the 
existing system extended over a month, and it was 
the 2 1 St of April before the Committee went into 
the engineering evidence, which was the vital part 
of the question. 

On the 25th George Stephenson was called into 
the witness-box. It was his first appearance before 
a Committee of the House of Commons, and he well 
knew what he had to expect. He was aware that 
the whole force of the opposition was to be directed 
against him ; and if they could break down his 
evidence, the canal monopoly might yet be upheld 
for a time. Many years afterwards, when looking 
back at his position on this trying occasion, he said : — 
** When I went to Liverpool to plan a line from thence 
to Manchester, I pledged myself to the directors to 
attain a speed of lo miles an hour. I said I had no 
doubt the locomotive might be made to go much 
faster, but that we had better be moderate at the 
beginning. The directors said I was quite right; 
for that if, when they went to Parliament, I talked 
of going at a greater rate than lo miles an hour, I 
should put a cross upon the concern. It was not 
an easy task for me to keep the engine down to 
10 miles an hour, but it must be done, and I did 
V. o 


my best. I had to place myself in that most un- 
pleasant of all positions— the witness-box of a 
Parliamentary Committee. I was not long in it, 
before I began to wish for a hole to creep out at ! 
I could not find words to satisfy either the Committee 
or myself. I was subjected to the cross-examination 
of eight or ten barristers, purposely, as far as 
possible, to bewilder me. Some member of the 
Committee asked if I was a foreigner, and another 
hinted that I was mad. But I put up with every 
rebuff, and went on with my plans, determined not 
to be put down." 

Mr. Stephenson stood before the Committee to 
prove what the public opinion of that day held 
to be impossible. The self-taught mechanic had 
to demonstrate the practicability of accomplishing 
that .which the most distinguished engineers of the 
time regarded as impracticable. Clear though the 
subject was to himself, and familiar as he was with 
the powers of the locomotive, it was no easy task 
for him to bring home his convictions, or even to 
convey his meaning to the less informed minds of 
his hearers. In his strong Northumbrian dialect 
he struggled for utterance, in the face of the sneers, 
interruptions, and ridicule of the opponents of the 
measure, and even of the Committee, some of whom 
shook their heads and whispered doubts as to his 
sanity, when he energetically avowed that he could 
make the locomotive go at the rate of 12 miles an 
hour ! It was so grossly in the teeth of all the 
experience of honourable members, that the man 
" must certainly be labouring under a delusion ! " 

And yet his large experience of railways and 
locomotives, as described by himself to the Com- 
mittee, entitled this " untaught, inarticulate genius," 


as he has so well been styled, to speak with confidence 
on such a subject. Beginning with his experience 
as a brakesman at Killingworth in 1803, he went on 
to state that he was appointed to take the entire 
charge of the steam-engines in 18 13, and had 
superintended the railroads connected with the 
numerous collieries of the Grand Allies from that 
time downwards. He had laid down or superintended 
the railways at Burradon, Mount Moor, Springwell, 
Bedlington, Hetton, and Darlington, besides im- 
proving those at Killingworth, South Moor, and 
Derwent Crook. He had constructed fifty-five 
steam-engines, of which sixteen were locomotives. 
Some of these had been sent to France. The 
engines constructed by him for the working of the 
Killingworth Railroad, eleven years before, had 
continued steadily at work ever since, and fulfilled 
his most sanguine expectations. He was prepared 
to prove the safety of working high-pressure loco- 
motives on a railroad, and the superiority of this 
mode of transporting goods over all others. As to 
speed, he said he had recommended 8 miles an hour 
with 20 tons, and 4 miles an hour with 40 tons ; but 
he was quite confident that much more might be 
done. Indeed, he had no doubt they might go at 
the rate of 12 miles. As to the charge that loco- 
motives on a railroad would so terrify the horses 
in the neighbourhood, that to travel on horseback 
or to plough the adjoining fields would be rendered 
highly dangerous, the witness said that horses 
learnt to take no notice of them, though there were 
horses that would shy at a wheelbarrow. A mail- 
coach was likely to be more shied at by horses than 
a locomotive. In the neighbourhood of Killingworth, 
the cattle in the fields went on grazing while the 

o 2 


engines passed them, and the farmers made no 

Mr. Alderson, who had carefully studied the 
subject, and was well skilled in practical science, 
subjected the witness to a protracted and severe 
cross-examination as to the speed and power of the 
locomotive, the stroke of the piston, the slipping of 
the wheels upon the rails, and various other points 
of detail. Mr. Stephenson insisted that no slipping 
took place, as attempted to be extorted from him by 
the counsel He said, " It is impossible for slipping 
to take place so long as the adhesive weight of the 
wheel upon the rail is greater than the weight to be 
dragged after it." As to accidents, Stephenson said 
he knew of none that had occurred with his engines. 
There had been one, he was told, at the Middleton 
Colliery, near Leeds, with a Blenkinsop engine. 
The driver had been in liquor, and put a con- 
siderable load on the safety-valve, so that upon 
going forward the engine blew up and the man was 
killed. But he added, if proper precautions had 
been used with that boiler, the accident could not 
have happened. The following cross-examination 
occurred in reference to the question of speed : — 

**Of course," he was asked, "when a body is 
moving upon a road, the greater the velocity the 
greater the momentum that is generated ? " " Cer- 
tainly." — " What would be the momentum of 40 
tons moving at the rate of 12 miles an hour ? " " It 
would be very great." " Have you seen a railroad 
that would stand that?" " Yes."— " Where ? " 
"Any railroad that would bear going 4 miles an 
hour : I mean to say, that if it would bear the 
weight at 4 miles an hour, it would bear it at 12." — 
" Taking it at 4 miles an hour, do you mean to say 


that it would not require a stronger railway to 
carry the same weight 12 miles an hour ?" " I will 
give an answer to that. I dare say every person 
has been over ice when skating, or seen persons go 
over, and they know that it would bear them better 
at a greater velocity than it would if they went 
slower; when they go quick, the weight in a 
measure ceases." — " Is not that upon the hypothesis 
that the railroad is perfect?" "It is; and I mean 
to make it perfect." 

It is not necessary to state that to have passed 
the ordeal of so severe a cross-examination scathe- 
less, needed no small amount of courage, intelli- 
gence, and ready shrewdness on the part of the 
witness. Nicholas Wood, who was present on the 
occasion, has since stated that the point on which 
Stephenson was hardest pressed was that of speed. 
"I believe," he says, "that it would have lost the 
Company their bill if he had gone beyond 8 or 9 
miles an hour. If he Had stated his intention of 
going 12 or 15 miles an hour, not a single person 
would have believed it to be practicable." 

The Committee also seem to have entertained 
considerable alarm as to the high rate of speed 
which had been spoken of, and proceeded to 
examine the witness further on the subject. They 
supposed the case of the engine being upset when 
going at 9 miles an hour, and asked what, in such 
a case, would become of the cargo astern. To 
which the witness replied that it would not be up- 
set. One of the members of the Committee pressed 
the witness a little further. He put the following 
case: — "Suppose, now, one of these engines to be 
going along a railroad at the rate of 9 or 10 miles 
an hour, and that a cow were to stray upon the line 


and get in the way of the engine ; would not that, 
think you, be a very awkward circumstance?" 
"Yes," replied the witness, with a twinkle in his 
eye, "very awkward— /or the coo!'' The honour- 
able member did not proceed further with his 
cross-examination ; to use a railway phrase, he was 
"shunted." Another asked if animals would not be 
very much frightened by the engine passing them, 
especially by the glare of the red-hot chimney. 
"But how would they know that it wasn't 
painted ? " said the witness. 

On the following day the engineer was subjected 
to a very severe examination. On that part of the 
scheme with which he was most practically con- 
versant, his evidence was clear and conclusive. 
Now, he had to give evidence on the plans made 
by his surveyors, and the estimates which had 
been founded on such plans. So long as he was 
confined to locomotive engines and iron railroads, 
with the minutest details of which he was more 
familiar than any man living, he felt at home, and 
in his element. But when the designs of bridges 
and the cost of constructing them had to be gone 
into, the subject being in a great measure new to 
him, hfs evidence was much less satisfactory. 

Mr. Alderson cross-examined him at great length 
on the plans of the bridges, the tunnels, the cross- 
ings of the roads and streets, and the details of the 
survey, which, it soon clearly appeared, were in 
some respects seriously at fault. It seems that, 
after the plans had been deposited, Stephenson 
found that a much more favourable line might be 
made; and he made his estimates accordingly, 
supposing that Parliament would not confine the 
Company to the precise plan which had been 


deposited. This was felt to be a serious blot in 
the parliamentary case, and one very difficult to 
be got over. 

For three entire days was our engineer subjected 
to this cross-examination. He held his ground 
bravely, and defended the plans and estimates with 
remarkable ability and skill ; but it was clear they 
were imperfect, and the result was on the whole 
damaging to the measure. 

The case of the opponents was next gone into, 
in the course of which the counsel indulged in 
strong vituperation against the witnesses for the 
bill. One of them. spoke of the utter impossibility 
of making a railway upon so treacherous a material 
as Chat Moss, which was declared to be an immense 
mass of pulp, and nothing else. ** It actually," 
said Mr. Harrison, " rises in height, from the rain 
swelling it like a sponge, and sinks again in dry 
weather; and if a boring instrument is put into 
it, it sinks immediately by its own weight. The 
making of an embankment out of this pulpy, wet 
moss, is no very easy task. Who but Mr. 
Stephenson would have thought of entering into 
Chat Moss, carrying it out almost like wet dung? 
It is ignorance almost inconceivable. It is perfect 
madness in a person called upon to speak on a 

scientific subject, to propose such a plan 

Every part of this scheme shows that this man has 
applied himself to a subject of which he has no 
knowledge, and to which he has no science to apply." 
Then adverting to the proposal to work the intended 
line by means of locomotives, the learned gentleman 
proceeded : ** When we set out with the original 
prospectus, we were to gallop, I know not at what 
rate; I believe it was at the rate of 12 miles an 

200 Evidence for the oppoN£nts [chap ix 

hour. My learned friend, Mr. Adam, contemplated — 
possibly alluding to Ireland — that some of the Irish 
members would arrive in the waggons to a division. 
My learned friend says that they would go at the 
rate of 12 miles an hour with the aid of the devil in 
the form of a locomotive, sitting as postilion on the 
fore horse, and an honourable member sitting 
behind him to stir up the fire, and keep it at full 
speed. But the speed at which these locomotive 
engines are to go has slackened: Mr. Adam does 
not go faster now than 5 miles an hour. The 
learned serjeant (Spankie) says he should like 
to have 7, but he would be content to go 6. I will 
show he cannot go 6 ; and probably, for any practical 
purposes, I may be able to show that I can keep 

up with him by the canal Locomotive engines 

are liable to be operated upon by the weather. 
You are told they are affected by rain, and an 
attempt has been made to cover them; but the 
wind will affect them ; and any gale of wind which 
would affect the traffic on the Mersey would render 
it impossible to set off a locomotive engine, either 
by poking of the fire, or keeping up the pressure 
of the steam till the boiler was ready to burst." 
How amusing it now is to read these extraordinary 
views as to the formation of a railway over Chat 
Moss, and the impossibility of starting a locomotive 
engine in the face of a gale of wind ! 

Evidence was called to show that the house 
property passed by the proposed railway would 
be greatly deteriorated — in some places almost 
destroyed ; that the locomotive engines would be 
terrible nuisances, in consequence of the fire and 
smoke vomited forth by them ; and that the value 
of land in the neighbourhood of Manchester alone 


would be deteriorated by no less than 20,000/. ! 
Evidence was also given at great length showing the 
utter impossibility of forming a road of any kind 
upon Chat Moss. A Manchester builder, who was 
examined, could not imagine the feat possible, unless 
by arching it across in the manner of a viaduct from 
one side to the other. It was the old story of 
"nothing like leather." But the opposition mainly 
relied upon the evidence of the leading engineers — 
not like Stephenson, self-taught men, but regular 
professionals. One of these, Mr. Francis Giles, C.E., 
had been twenty-two years an engineer, and could 
speak with some authority. His testimony was 
mainly directed to the utter impossibility of forming 
a railway over Chat Moss. ^^ No engineer in his 
senses" said he, " would go through Chat Moss if he 
wanted to make a railroad from Liverpool to Man- 
chester In my judgment a railroad certainly 

cannot be safely made over Chat Moss without going to 
the bottom of the Moss. The soil ought all to be taken 
out, undoubtedly ; in doing which, it will not be 
practicable to approach each end of the cutting, as 
you make it, with the carriages. No carriages would 
stand upon the Moss short of the bottom. My esti- 
mate for the whole cutting and embankment over 
Chat Moss is 270,000/. nearly, at those quantities and 

those prices which are decidedly correct 

It will be necessary to take this Moss completely out 
at the bottom, in order to make a solid road." 

When the engineers had given their evidence, 
Mr. Alderson summed up in a speech which extended 
over two days. He declared Mr. Stephenson's plan 
to be "the most absurd scheme that ever entered 
into the head of man to conceive. My learned 
friends," said he, *' almost endeavoured to stop my 


examination ; they wished me to put in the plan, but 
I had rather have the exhibition of Mr. Stephenson 
in that box. I say he never had a plan — I believe he 
never had one — I do not believe he is capable of 
making one. His is a mind perpetually fluctuating 
between opposite difficulties : he neither knows 
whether he is to make bridges over roads or rivers, 
of one size or of another ; or to make embankments, 
or cuttings, or inclined planes, or in what way the 
thing is to be carried into effect. Whenever a diffi- 
culty is pressed, as in the case of a tunnel, he gets 
out of it at one end, and when you try to catch him 
at that, he gets out at the other." Mr. Alderson 
proceeded to declaim against the gross ignorance 
of this so-called engineer, who proposed to make 
" impossible ditches by the side of an impossible 
railway " upon Chat Moss ; " I care not," he said, 
" whether Mr. Giles is right or wrong in his estimate, 
for whether it be effected by means of piers raised 
up all the way for four miles through Chat Moss, 
whether they are to support it on beams of wood or 
by erecting masonry, or whether Mr. Giles shall put 
a solid bank of earth through it, — in all these schemes 
there is not one found like that of Mr. Stephenson's, 
namely, to cut impossible drains on the side of this 
road; and it is sufficient for me to suggest and to show 
that this scheme of Mr. Stephenson's is impossible 
or impracticable, and that no other scheme, if they 
proceed upon this line, can be suggested which will 
not produce enormous expense. I think that has 
been irrefragably made out. Every one knows Chat 
Moss— every one knows that the iron sinks immedi- 
ately on its being put upon the surface. I have heard 
of culverts, which have been put upon the Moss, 
which, after having been surveyed the day before, 


have the next morning disappeared ; and that a house 
(a poet's house, who may be supposed in the habit 
of building castles even in the air), story after story, 
as fast as one is added, the lower one sinks ! There 
is nothing, it appears, except long sedgy grass, and 
a little soil to prevent its sinking into the shades 
of eternal night. I have now done, sir, with Chat 
Moss, and there I leave this railroad." 

The case of the principal petitioners against the 
bill occupied many more days, and on its conclusion 
the committee proceeded to divide on the preamble, 
which was carried by a majority of only one — 37 
voting for it, and 36 against it. The clauses were 
next considered, and on a division the first clause, 
empowering the Company to make the railway, was 
lost by a majority of 19 to 13. In like manner, the 
next clause, empowering the Company to take land, 
was lost ; on which the bill was withdrawn. 

Thus ended this memorable contest, which had 
extended over two months — carried on throughout 
with great pertinacity and skill, especially on the 
part of the opposition, who left no stone unturned 
to defeat the measure. The want of a third line of 
communication between Liverpool and Manchester 
had been clearly proved; but the engineering 
evidence in support of the proposed railway having 
been thrown almost entirely upon Stephenson, who 
fought this, the most important part of the battle, 
single-handed, was not brought out so clearly as 
it would have been, had he secured more efficient 
engineering assistance — which he was not able to 
do, as the principal engineers of that day were 
against the locomotive railway. The obstacles 
thrown in the way of the survey by the landowners 
and canal companies, by which the plans were 

204 Stephenson's dejection [chap ix 

rendered exceedingly imperfect, also tended in a 
great measure to defeat the bill. 

The rejection of the bill was probably the most 
severe trial George Stephenson underwent in the 
whole course of his life. The circumstances con- 
nected with the defeat of the measure, the errors 
in the levels, his rigid cross-examination, followed 
by the fact of his being superseded by another 
engineer, all told fearfully upon him, and for 
some time he was as much weighed down as if 
a personal calamity of the most serious kind had 
befallen him. 

Stephenson had been so terribly abused by the 
leading counsel for the opposition in the course of 
the proceedings before the Committee — stigmatised 
by them as an ignoramus, a fool, and a maniac — that 
even his friends seem for a time to have lost faith in 
him and in the locomotive system, whose efficiency 
he nevertheless continued to uphold. Things never 
looked blacker for the success of the railway system 
than at the close of this great parliamentary struggle. 
And yet it was on the very eve of its triumph. 

The Committee of Directors appointed to watch 
the measure in Parliament were so determined to 
press on the project of a railway, even though it 
should have to be worked merely by horse-power, 
that the bill had scarcely been thrown out ere they 
met in London to consider their next step. They 
called their parliamentary friends together to con- 
sult as to future proceedings ; and the result was 
that they went back to Liverpool determined to 
renew their application to Parliament in the ensuing 

It was not considered desirable to employ Mr. 
Stephenson in making the new survey. He had not 


as yet established his reputation as an engineer 
beyond the boundaries of his own district ; and the 
promoters of the bill had doubtless felt the disad- 
vantages of this in the course of their parliamentary 
struggle. They therefore resolved now to employ 
engineers of the highest established reputation, as 
well as the best surveyors that could be obtained. 
In accordance with these views they engaged 
Messrs. George and John Rennie to be the engineers 
of the railway ; and Mr. Charles Vignolles was 
appointed to prepare the plans and sections. The 
line which was eventually adopted differed some- 
what from that surveyed by Mr. Stephenson. The 
principal parks and game-preserves of the district 
were carefully avoided. The promoters thus hoped 
to get rid of the opposition of the most influential 
of the resident landowners. The crossing of certain 
of the streets of Liverpool was also avoided, and the 
entrance contrived by means of a tunnel and an 
inclined plane. The new line stopped short of the 
river Irwell at the Manchester end, by which the 
objections grounded on an illegal interruption to the 
canal or river traffic were in some measure removed. 
The opposition of the Duke of Bridgewater's 
trustees was also got rid of, and the Marquis of 
Stafford became a subscriber for a thousand shares. 
With reference to the use of the locomotive engine, 
the promoters, remembering with what effect the 
objections to it had been urged by the opponents of 
the bill, intimated, in their second prospectus, that 
**as a guarantee of their good faith towards the 
public they will not require any clause empowering 
them to use it ; or they will submit to such restric- 
tions in the employment of it as Parliament may 


The survey of the new line having been com- 
pleted, the plans were deposited, the standing 
orders duly complied with, and the bill went before 
Parliament. The same counsel appeared for the 
promoters, but the examination of witnesses was not 
nearly so protracted as on the previous occasion. 
The preamble was declared proved by a majority 
of 43 to 1 8. On the third reading in the House 
of Commons, an animated, and what now appears 
a very amusing discussion took place. The Hon. 
Edward Stanley moved that the bill be read that 
day six months; and in his speech he undertook 
to prove that the railway trains would take ten hours 
on the journey, and that they could only be worked 
by horses. Sir Isaac Coffin seconded the motion, 
and in doing so denounced the project as a most 
flagrant imposition. He would not consent to see 
widows' premises invaded ; and " What, he would 
like to know, was to be done with all those who had 
advanced money in making and repairing turnpike- 
roads ? What was to become of coach-makers and 
harness-makers, coach-masters and coachmen, inn- 
keepers, horse-breeders, and horse-dealers ? Was 
the house aware of the smoke and the noise, the 
hiss and the whirl, which locomotive engines, 
passing at the rate of lo or 12 miles an hour, would 
occasion ? Neither the cattle ploughing in the fields 
or grazing in the meadows could behold them with- 
out dismay. Iron would be raised in price 100 per 
cent, or more probably exhausted altogether! It 
would be the greatest nuisance, the most complete 
disturbance of quiet and comfort in all parts of 
the kingdom, that the ingenuity of man could 
invent ! " 

Mr. Huskisson and other speakers, though 




unable to reply to such arguments as these, strongly 
supported the bill ; and it was carried on the third 
reading by a majority of 88 to 41. The bill passed 
the House of Lords almost unanimously, its only 
opponents being the Earl of Derby and his relative 
the Earl of Wilton. 

Surveying un Chat Moss. 




The appointment of prkicipal engineer to the 
railway was taken into consideration at the first 
meeting of the directors held at Liverpool subse- 
quent to the passing of the Act. The magnitude 
of the proposed works, and the vast consequences 
involved in their experiment, were deeply impressed 
upon their minds ; and they resolved to secure the 
services of a resident engineer of proved experience 
and ability. Their attention was naturally directed 
to Mr. Stephenson ; at the same time they desired 
to have the benefit of the Messrs. Rennie's pro- 
fessional assistance in superintending the works. 
Mr. George Rennie had an interview with the 
Board on the subject, at which he proposed to 
undertake the chief superintendence, making six 
visits in each year, and stipulating that he should 
have the appointment of the resident engineer. 
But the responsibility attaching to the direction 
in the matter of the efficient carrying on of the 
works, would not admit of their being influenced 
by ordinary punctilios on the occasion ; and they 
accordingly declined this proposal, and proceeded 
to appoint Mr. Stephenson their principal engineer 
at a salary of looo/. per annum. 

He at once removed his residence to Liverpool, 


and made arrangements to commence the works. 
He began with the " impossible thing" — to do that 
which the most distinguished engineers of the day 
had declared that "no man in his senses would 
undertake to do" — namely, to make the road over 
Chat Moss ! It was indeed a most formidable 
undertaking ; and the project of carrying a railway 
along, under, or over such a material as that of which 
it consisted, would certainly never have occurred 
to an ordinary mind. Michael Drayton supposed 
the Moss to have had its origin at the Deluge. 
Nothing more impassable could have been imagined 
than that dreary waste ; and Mr. Giles only spoke 
the popular feeling of the day when he declared 
that no carriage could stand on it "short of the 
bottom." In this bog, singular to say, Mr. Roscoe, 
the accomplished historian of the Medicis, buried 
his fortune in the hopeless attempt to cultivate 
portion of it which he had bought. 

Chat Moss is an immense peat bog of about 
twelve square miles in extent. Unlike the bogs 
or swamps of Cambridge and Lincolnshire, which 
consist principally of soft mud or silt, this bog is 
a vast mass of spongy vegetable pulp, the result 
of the growth and decay of ages. The spagni, 
or bog-mosses, cover the entire area ; one year's 
growth rising over another, — the older growths not 
entirely decaying, but remaining partially preserved 
by the antiseptic properties peculiar to peat. Hence 
the remarkable fact that, although a semifluid mass, 
the surface of Chat Moss rises above the level 
of the surrounding country. Like a turtle's back, 
it declines from the summit in every direction, 
having from thirty to forty feet gradual slope to the 
solid land on all sides. From the remains of trees, 

V. p 

2 10 The kEsibENT Engineers [chap x 

chiefly alder and birch, which have been dug out 
of it, and which must have previously flourished 
upon the surface of soil now deeply submerged, 
it is probable that the sand and clay base on which 
the bog rests is saucer-shaped, and so retains the 
entire mass in position. In rainy weather, such is 
its capacity for water that it sensibly swells, and 
rises in those parts where the moss is the deepest. 
This occurs through the capillary attraction of the 
fibres of the submerged moss, which is from 20 to 
30 feet in depth, whilst the growing plants effectually 
check evaporation from the surface. This peculiar 
character of the Moss has presented an insuperable 
difficulty in the way of reclaiming it by any system 
of extensive drainage — such as by sinking shafts, 
and pumping up the water by steam power, as has 
been proposed. Supposing a shaft of 30 feet deep 
to be sunk, it has been calculated that this would 
only be effectual for draining a circle of about 100 
yards, the water running down an incline of about 
5 to I ; for it was found in the course of draining 
the bog, that a ditch 3 feet deep only served to 
drain a space of less than 5 yards on each side, 
and two ditches of this depth, 10 yards apart, left a 
portion of the Moss between them scarcely affected 
by the drains. 

The three resident engineers selected by Mr. 
Stephenson to superintend the construction of 
the line, were Joseph Locke, William Allcard, 
and John Dixon. The last was appointed to that 
portion which lay across the Moss, neither of the 
other two envying his lot. On Mr. Dixon*s arrival, 
about July, 1826, Mr. Locke proceeded to show him 
over the length he was to take charge of, and to 
instal him in office. When they reached Chat 


Moss, Mr. Dixon found that the line had already 
been staked out and the levels taken in detail by the 
aid of planks laid upon the bog. The cutting of the 
drains along each side of the proposed road had 
also been commenced ; but the soft pulpy stuff had 
up to this time flowed into the drains and filled 
them up as fast as they were cut. Proceeding 
across the Moss, on the first day's inspection, the 
new resident, when about halfway over, slipped 
off the plank on which he walked, and sank to his 
knees in the bog. Struggling only sent him the 
deeper, and he might have disappeared altogether, 
but for the workmen, who hastened to his assist- 
ance upon planks, and rescued him from his 
perilous position. Much disheartened, he desired 
to return, and even thought of giving up the job ; 
but Mr. Locke assured him that the worst part was 
now past ; so the new resident plucked up heart 
again, and both floundered on until they reached 
the further edge of the Moss, wet and plastered 
over with bog-sludge. Mr. Dixon's companions en- 
deavoured to comfort him by the assurance that he 
might avoid similar perils, by walking upon 
" pattens," or boards fastened to the soles of his 
feet, as they had done when taking the levels, and 
as the workmen did when engaged in making drains 
in the softest parts of the Moss. The resident 
engineer was sorely puzzed in the outset by the 
problem of constructing a road for heavy locomo- 
tives, with trains of passengers and goods, upon 
a bog which he had found incapable of supporting 
his own weight ! 

Mr. Stephenson's idea was, that such a road 
might be made to float upon the bog, simply by 
means of a sufficient extension of the bearing 

p 2 


surface. As a ship, or a raft, capable of sustaining 
heavy loads floated in water, so in his opinion, 
might a light road be floated upon a bog, which 
was of considerably greater consistency than water. 
Long before the railway was thought of, Mr. Roscoe 
had adopted the remarkable expedient of fitting 
his plough-horses with flat wooden soles or pattens, 
to enable them to walk upon the Moss land which 
he had brought into cultivation. These pattens 
were fitted on by means of a screw apparatus, 
which met in front of the foot and was easily 
fastened. The mode by which these pattens 
served to sustain the horse is capable of easy 
explanation, and it will be observed that the 
rationale likewise explains the floating of a railway 
train. The foot of an ordinary farm-horse presents 
a base of about five inches diameter, but if this 
base be enlarged to seven inches— the circles being 
to each other as the squares of the diameters — it 
will be found that, by this slight enlargement of the 
base, a circle of nearly double the area has been 
secured ; and consequently the pressure of the foot 
upon every unit of ground upon which the horse 
stands has been reduced one half In fact, this 
contrivance has an effect tantamount to setting the 
horse upon eight feet instead of four. 

Apply the same reasoning to the ponderous 
locomotive, and it will be found, that even such 
a machine may be made to stand upon a bog, by 
means of a similar extension of the bearing surface. 
Suppose the engine to be 20 feet long and 5 feet 
wide, thus covering the surface of 100 square feet, 
and, provided the bearing has been extended by 
means of cross sleepers supported on a matting 
of heath and branches of trees covered with a few 


inches of gravel, the pressure of an engine of 20 tons 
will be only equal to about 3 pounds per inch over 
the whole surface on which it stands. Such was 
George Stephenson's idea in contriving his floating 
road — sonxething like an elongated raft across the 
Moss : and we shall see that he steadily kept it in 
view in carrying the work into execution 

The first thing done was to form a footpath of 
ling or heather along the proposed road, on which a 
man might walk without risk of sinking. A single 
line of temporary railway was then laid down, 
formed of ordinary cross-bars about 3 feet long and 
an inch square, with holes punched through them 
at the ends and nailed down to temporary sleepers. 
Along this way ran the waggons in which were 
conveyed the materials requisite to form the 
permanent road. These waggons carried about 
a ton each, and they were propelled by boys 
running behind them along the narrow iron rails. 
The boys became so expert that they would run the 
4 miles across at the rate of 7 or 8 miles an hour 
without missing a step ; if they had done so, they 
would have sunk in many places up to their middle. 
A comparatively slight extension of the bearing 
surface being found sufficient to enable the bog 
to bear this temporary line, the circumstance was 
a source of increased confidence and hope to our 
engineer in proceeding with the formation of the 
permanent roadway alongside. 

The digging of drains had been proceeding for 
some time along each side of the intended line ; but 
they filled up almost as soon as dug, the sides 
flowing in, and the bottom rising up. It was only 
in some of the drier parts of the bog that a depth 
of three or four feet could be reached. The surface- 


ground between the drains, containing the inter- 
twined roots of heather and long grass, was left 
untouched, and upon this was spread branches 
of trees and hedge-cuttings. In the softest places, 
rude gates or hurdles some 8 or 9 feet long by 4 feet 
wide, interwoven with heather, were laid in double 
thicknesses, their ends overlapping each other ; and 
upon this floating bed was spread a thin layer 
of gravel, on which the sleepers, chairs, and rails 
were laid in the usual manner. Such was the 
mode in which the road was formed upon the 

It was found, however, after the permanent way 
had been thus laid, that there was a tendency to 
sinking at those parts where the bog was softest. 
In ordinary cases, where a bank subsides, the 
sleepers are packed up with ballast or gravel ; but 
in this case the ballast was dug away and removed 
in order to lighten the road, and the sleepers were 
packed instead with cakes of dry turf or bundles 
of heath. By these expedients the subsided parts 
were again floated up to the level, and an approach 
was made towards a satisfactory road. But the 
most formidable difficulties were encountered at the 
centre and towards the edges of the Moss ; and it 
required no small degree of ingenuity and perse- 
verance on the part of the engineer successfully to 
overcome them. 

The Moss, as already observed, was highest in 
the centre, and it there presented a sort of hunch- 
back with a rising and falling gradient. At that 
point it was found necessary to cut deeper drains 
in order to consolidate the ground between them 
on which the road was to be formed. But, as at 
other places, the deeper the cutting the more rapid 


was the flow of fluid bog into the drain, the bottom 
rising up almost as fast as it was removed. To 
meet this emergency, numbers of empty tar-barrels 
were brought from Liverpool ; and as soon as a few 
yards of drain w^e dug, the barrels were laid down 
end to end, firmly fixed to each other by strong 
slabs laid over the joints, and nailed. They were 
then covered over with clay, and thus formed an 
underground sewer of wood instead of bricks. This 
expedient was found to answer the purpose intended, 
and the road across the centre of the Moss having 
been so prepared, it was then laid with the perma- 
nent materials. 

The greatest difficulty was, however, experienced 
in forming an embankment upon the edge of the 
bog at the Manchester end. Moss as dry as it 
could be cut was brought up in small waggons, 
by men and boys, and emptied so as to form an 
embankment ; but the bank had scarcely been 
raised three or four feet in height, when the stuff 
broke through the heathery surface of the bog and 
sank out of sight. More moss was brought up and 
emptied with no better result; and for weeks the 
filling was continued without any visible embank- 
ment having been made. It was the duty of the 
resident engineer to proceed to Liverpool every 
fortnight to obtain the wages for the workmen 
employed under him; and on these occasions 
he was required to colour up, on a section drawn 
to a working scale suspended against the wall 
of the directors' room, the amount of excavation 
and embankment from time to time executed. But 
on many of these occasions, Mr. Dixon had no 
progress whatever to show for the money expended 
on the Chat Moss embankment, Sometimes, indeed, 


the visible work done was less than it had appeared 
a fortnight or a month before ! 

The directors now became seriously alarmed, 
and feared that the evil prognostications of the 
eminent engineers were about to be fulfilled. The 
resident engineer was even called upon to supply 
an estimate of the cost of forming an embankment 
of solid stuff throughout, as also of the cost of piling 
the roadway, and in effect constructing a four mile 
viaduct of timber across the Moss, from twenty to 
thirty feet high from the foundation. The expense 
appalled the directors, and the question arose, 
whether the work was to be proceeded with or 

Mr. Stephenson afterwards described the alarm- 
ing position of affairs at a public dinner at Birming- 
ham (23rd December, 1837) on the occasion of a 
piece of plate being presented to his son, upon the 
completion of the London and Birmingham Railway. 
He related the anecdote, he said, for the purpose 
of impressing upon the minds of those who heard 
him the necessity of perseverance. 

" After working for weeks and weeks," said he, 
" in filling in materials to form the road, there did 
not yet appear to be the least sign of our being able to 
raise the solid embankment one single inch ; in short 
we went on filling in without the slightest apparent 
effect. Even my assistants began to feel uneasy, 
and to doubt of the success of the scheme. The 
directors, too, spoke of it as a hopeless task : and 
at length they became seriously alarmed, so much 
so, indeed, that a board meeting was held on Chat 
Moss to decide whether I should proceed any 
further. They had previously taken the opinion 
of other engineers, who reported unfavourably. 


There was no help for it, however, but to go on. 
An immense outlay had been incurred; and great 
loss would have been occasioned had the scheme 
been then abandoned, and the line taken by another 
route. So the directors were compelled to allow me 
to go on with my plans, of the ultimate success 
of which I myself never for one moment doubted." 

During the progress of this part of the works, 
the Worsley and Trafford men, who lived near the 
Moss, and plumed themselves upon their practical 
knowledge of bog-work, declared the completion 
of the road to be utterly impracticable. " If you knew 
as much about Chat Moss as we do," they said, 
"you would never have entered on so rash an 
undertaking; and depend upon it, all you have 
done and are doing will prove abortive. You must 
give up the idea of a floating railway, and either fill 
the Moss hard from the bottom, or deviate so as 
to avoid it altogether." Such were the conclusions 
of science and experience. 

In the midst of all these alarms and prophecies 
of failure, Stephenson never lost heart, but held 
to his purpose. His motto was " Persevere ! " 
•* You must go on filling in," he said ; ** there is no 
other help for it. The stuff emptied in is doing 
its work out of sight, and if you will but have 
patience, it will soon begin to show." And so the 
filling in went on ; several hundreds of men and 
boys were employed to skin the Moss all round 
for many thousand yards, by means of sharp spades, 
called by the turf-cutters " tommy-spades " ; and the 
dried cakes of turf were afterwards used to form 
the embankment, until at length as the stuff sank 
and rested upon the bottom, the bank gradually 
rose above the surface, and slowly advanced 


onwards, declining in height and consequently 
in weight, until it became joined to the floating 
road already laid upon the Moss. In the course 
of forming the embankment, the pressure of the 
bog turf tipped out of the waggons caused a copious 
stream of bog-water to flow from the end of it, 
in colour resembling Barclay's double stout ; and 
when completed, the bank looked like a long ridge 
of tightly pressed tobacco-leaf. The compression 
of the turf may be imagined from the fact that 
670,000 cubic yards of raw moss formed only 277,000 
cubic yards of embankment at the completion of the 

At the western, or Liverpool end of the Chat 
Moss, there was a like embankment ; but, as the 
ground there was solid, little difficulty was ex- 
perienced in forming it, beyond the loss of sub- 
stance caused by the oozing out of the water held 
by the moss-earth. 

At another part of the Liverpool and Man- 
chester line. Parr Moss was crossed by an embank- 
ment about li mile in extent. In the immediate 
neighbourhood was found a large excess of cutting, 
which it would have been necessary to " put out in 
spoil-banks" (according to the technical phrase); 
but the surplus clay, stone, and shale, were tipped, 
waggon after waggon, into Parr Moss, until a solid 
but concealed embankment, from fifteen to twenty- 
five feet high, was formed, although to the eye it 
appears to be laid upon the level of the adjoining 
surface, as at Chat Moss. 

The road across Chat Moss was finished by the 
ist January, 1830, when the first experimental train 
of passengers passed over it, drawn by the 
"Rocket"; and it turned out that, instead of being 


the most expensive part of the line, it was about the 
cheapest. The total cost of forming the line over 
the Moss was 28,000/., whereas Mr. Giles's estimate 
was 270,000/. ! It also proved to be one of the best 
portions of the railway. Being a floating road, it 
was smooth and easy to run upon, just as Dr. 
Arnott's water-bed is soft and easy to lie upon — the 
pressure being equal at all points. There was, and 
still is, a sort of springiness in the road over the 
Moss, such as is felt in passing along a suspended 
bridge; and those who looked along the line as a 
train passed over it, said they could observe a 
waviness, such as precedes and follows a skater 
upon ice. 

During the progress of these works the most 
ridiculous rumours were set afloat. The drivers 
of the stage-coaches who feared for their calling, 
brought the alarming intelligence into Manchester 
from time to time, that " Chat Moss was blown up ! *' 
" Hundreds of men and horses had sunk, and the 
works were completely abandoned ! " The engineer 
himself was declared to have been swallowed up in 
the Serbonian bog ; and " railways were at an end 
for ever I " 

In the construction of the railway, Mr. Stephen- 
son's capacity for organising and directing the 
labours of a large number of workmen of all kinds 
eminently displayed itself A vast quantity of 
ballast-waggons had to be constructed, and imple- 
ments and materials collected, before the army of 
necessary labourers could be efficiently employed 
at the various points of the line. There were not 
at that time, as there are now, large contractors 
possessed of railway plant, capable of executing 
earth-works on a large scale. The first railway 


engineer had not only to contrive the plant, but to 
organise and direct the labour. The labourers 
themselves had to be trained to their work ; and it 
was on the Liverpool and Manchester line that Mr. 
Stephenson organised the staff of that mighty band 
of railway navvies, whose handiworks will be the 
wonder and admiration of succeeding generations. 
Looking at their gigantic traces, the men of some 
future age may be found to declare of the engineer 
and of his workmen, that " there were giants in those 

Although the works of the Liverpool and 
Manchester Railway are of a much less formidable 
character than those of many lines that have since 
been constructed, they were then regarded as of the 
most stupendous description. Indeed, the like of 
them had not before been executed in England. It 
had been our engineer's original intention to carry 
the railway from the north end of Liverpool, round 
the red-sandstone ridge on which the upper part 
of the town is built, and also round the higher rise 
of the coal formation at Rainhill, by following the 
natural levels. But the opposition of the land- 
owners having forced the line more to the south, 
it was rendered necessary to cut through the hills, 
and go over the high grounds instead of round 
them. The first consequence of this alteration in 
the plans was the necessity for constructing a 
tunnel under the town of Liverpool ij mile in 
length ; the second, a long and deep cutting 
through the red-sandstone rock at Olive Mount ; 
and the third and most serious of all, was the neces- 
sity for surmounting the Whiston and Sutton hills by 
inclined planes of i in 96. The line was also, by the 
same forced deviation, prevented passing through the 


Lancashii ^ coal-field, and the engineer was compelled 
to carry it across the Sankey valley, at a point where 
the waters of the brook had dug out an excessively 
deep channel through the marl-beds of the district. 

The principal difficulty was experienced in 
pushing on the works connected with the formation 
of the tunnel under Liverpool, 2200 yards in length. 
The blasting and hewing of the rock were vigorously 
carried on night and day ; and the engineer's practi- 
cal experience in the collieries here proved of great 
use to him. Many obstacles had to be encountered 
and overcome in the formation of the tunnel, the 
rock varying in hardness and texture at different 
parts. In some places the miners were deluged by 
water, which surged from the soft blue shale found 
at the lowest level of the tunnel. In other places, 
beds of wet sand were cut through ; and there care- 
ful propping and pinning were necessary to prevent 
the roof from tumbling in, until the masonry to 
support it could be erected. On one occasion while 
the engineer was absent from Liverpool, a mass of 
loose moss-earth and sand fell from the roof, which 
had been insufficiently propped. The miners with- 
drew from the work ; and on Stephenson's return, 
he found them in a refractory state, refusing to re- 
enter the tunnel. He induced them, however, by 
his example, to return to their labours ; and when 
the roof had been secured, the work went on again 
as before. When there was danger, he was always 
ready to share it with the men ; and gathering con- 
fidence from his fearlessness, they proceeded vigor- 
ously with the undertaking, boring and mining their 
way towards the light. 

The Olive Mount cutting was the first extensive 
stone cutting executed on any railway, and to this 


day it is one of the most formidable. It is about 
two miles long, and in some parts 80 feet deep. 
It is a narrow ravine or defile cut out of the solid 
rock ; and not less than 480,000 cubic yards of stone 


Olive Mount Cutting. 

were removed from it. Mr. Vignolles, afterwards 
describing it, said it looked as if it had been dug out 
by giants. 

The crossing of so many roads and stream-s in- 


volved the necessity for constructing an unusual 
number of bridges. There were not fewer than 63, 
under or over the railway, on the 30 miles between 
Liverpool and Manchester. Up to this time, bridges 
had been applied generally to high roads where 
inclined approaches were of comparatively small 
importance, and in determining the rise of his arch 
the engineer selected any headway he thought 
proper. Every consideration was indeed made 
subsidiary to constructing the bridge itself, and the 
completion of one large structure of this sort was 
regarded as an epoch in engineering history. Yet 
here, in the course of a few years, no fewer than 63 
bridges were constructed on one line of railway! 
Mr. Stephenson early found that the ordinary arch 
was inapplicable in certain cases, where the headway 
was limited, and yet the level of the railway must 
be preserved. In such cases he employed simple 
cast-iron beams, by which he safely bridged gaps of 
moderate width, economizing headway, and intro- 
ducing the use of a new material of the greatest 
possible value to the railway engineer. The bridges 
of masonry upon the line were of many kinds; 
several of them askew bridges, and others, such as 
those at Newton and over the Irwell at Manchester, 
straight and of considerable dimensions; but the 
principal piece of masonry was the Sankey viaduct. 
This fine work is principally of brick, with stone 
facings. It consists of nine arches of fifty feet span 
each. The massive piers are supported on two 
hundred piles driven deep into the soil ; and they 
rise to a great height, — the coping of the parapet 
being seventy feet above the level of the valley, in 
which flow the Sankey brook and canal. Its total 
cost was about 45,000/. 


By the end of 1828 the directors found they had 
expended 460,000/. on the works, and that they were 
still far from completioa They looked at the loss 
of interest on this large investment, and began to 
grumble at the delay. They desired to see their 

Sankey Viaduct. 

capital becoming productive ; and in the spring of 
1829 they urged the engineer to push on the works 
with increased vigour. Mr. Cropper, one of the 
directors, who took an active interest in their pro- 
gress, said to Stephenson one day, " Now, George, 
thou must get on with the railway, and have it 


finished without further delay; thou must really 
have it ready for opening by the first day of January 
next." " Consider the heavy character of the works, 
sir, and how much we have been delayed by the 
want of money, not to speak of the wetness of the 
weather : it is impossible." " Impossible ! " rejoined 
Cropper ; " I wish I could get Napoleon to thee — he 
would tell thee there is no such word as * im- 
possible' in the vocabulary." " Tush!" exclaimed 
Stephenson, with warmth; "don't speak to me 
about Napoleon ! Give me men, money, and mate- 
rials, and I will do what Napoleon couldn't do — 
drive a railway from Liverpool to Manchester over 
Chat Moss!" 

The works made rapid progress in the course 
of the year 1826. Double sets of labourers were 
employed on Chat Moss and at other points, by 
night and day, the night shifts working by torch and 
fire light ; and at length, the work advancing at all 
points, the directors saw their way to the satisfactory 
completion of the undertaking. 

It may well be supposed that Mr. Stephenson's 
time was fully occupied in superintending the 
extensive, and for the most part novel works, 
connected with the railway, and that even his 
extraordinary powers of labour and endurance were 
taxed to the utmost during the four years that 
they were in progress. Almost every detail in 
the plans was directed and arranged by himself. 
Every bridge, from the simplest to the most compli- 
cated, including the then novel structure of the 
" skew bridge," iron girders, siphons, fixed engines, 
and the machinery for working the tunnel at the 
Liverpool end, had to be thought out by his 
own head, and reduced to definite plans under his 
V. Q 


own eyes. Besides all this, he had to design the 
working plant in anticipation of the opening of 
the railway. He must be prepared with waggons, 
trucks, and carriages, himself superintending their 
manufacture. The permanent road, turntables, 
switches, and crossings, — in short, the entire struc- 
ture and machinery of the line, from the turning of 
the first sod to the running of the first train of 
carriages upon the railway, — were executed under 
his immediate supervision. And it was in the midst 
of this vast accumulation of work and responsibility 
that the battle of the locomotive engine had to 
be fought, — a battle, not merely against material 
difficulties, but against the still more trying ob- 
structions of deeply-rooted mistrust and pre- 
judice on the part of a considerable minority of 
the directors. 

He had no staff" of experienced assistants, — not 
even a staff" of draughtsmen in his office, — but only 
a few pupils learning their business; and he was 
frequently without even their help. The time of his 
engineering inspectors was fully occupied in the 
actual superintendence of the works at different 
parts of the line ; and he took care to direct all their 
more important operations in person. The principal 
draughtsman was Mr. Thomas Gooch, a pupil he 
had brought with him from Newcastle. " I may 
say," writes Mr. Gooch, " that nearly the whole of 
the working and other drawings, as well as the 
various land-plans for the railway, were drawn 
by my own hand. They were done at the Com- 
pany's office in Clayton Square during the day, 
from instructions supplied in the evenings by Mr. 
Stephenson, either by word of mouth, or by little 
rough hand-sketches on letter-paper. The evenings 


were also generally devoted to my duties as secre- 
tary, in writing (mostly from his own dictation) his 
letters and reports, or in making calculations and 
estimates. The mornings before breakfast were not 
unfrequently spent by me in visiting and lending a 
helping hand in the tunnel and other works near 
Liverpool, — the untiring zeal and perseverance of 
George Stephenson never for an instant flagging, 
and inspiring with a like enthusiasm all who 
were engaged under him in carrying forward the 
works." * 

The usual routine of his life at this time — if 
routine it might be called — was, to rise early, by 
sunrise in summer and before it in winter, and 
thus " break the back of the day's work " by mid- 
day. While the tunnel under Liverpool was in 
progress, one of his first duties in a morning before 
breakfast was to go over the various shafts, clothed 
in a suitable dress, and inspect their progress at 
different points ; on other days he would visit the 
extensive workshops at Edgehill, where most of the 
" plant " for the line was in course of manufacture. 
Then, returning to his house, in Upper Parliament 
Street, Windsor, after a hurried breakfast, he would 
ride along the works to inspect their progress, and 

• Mr. Gooch's letter to the author, December 13th, 1861. Re- 
ferring to the preparations of the plans and drawings, Mr. Gooch 
adds, "When we consider the extensive sets of drawings which 
most engineers have since found it right to adopt in carrying out 
similar works, it is not the least surprising feature in George 
Stephenson's early professional career, that he should have been 
able to confine himself to so limited a number as that which could 
be supplied by the hands of one person in carrying out the con- 
struction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway ; and this may 
still be said, after full allowance is made for the alteration of system 
involved by the adoption of the large contract system." 

Q 2 


push them on with greater energy where needful. 
On other days he would prepare for the much less 
congenial engagement of meeting the Board, which 
was often a cause of great anxiety and pain to him ; 
for it was difficult to satisfy men of all tempers, and 
some of these not of the most generous sort. On 
such occasions he might be seen with his right-hand 
thumb thrust through the topmost button-hole of his 
coat-breast, vehemently hitching his right shoulder, 
as was his habit when labouring under any con- 
siderable excitement. Occasionally he would take 
an early ride before breakfast, to inspect the progress 
of the Sankey viaduct. He had a favourite horse, 
brought by him from Newcastle, called " Bobby," — 
so tractable that, with his rider on his back, he 
would walk up to a locomotive with the steam 
blowing off, and put his nose against it without 
shying. " Bobby," saddled and bridled, was brought 
to Mr. Stephenson's door betimes in the morning ; 
and mounting him, he would ride the fifteen miles 
to Sankey, putting up at a little public-house which 
then stood upon the banks of the canal. There he 
had his breakfast of "crowdie," which he made with 
his own hands. It consisted of oatmeal stirred into 
a basin of hot water, — a sort of porridge, — which 
was supped with cold sweet milk. After this frugal 
breakfast, he would go upon the works, and remain 
there, riding from point to point for the greater part 
of the day. When he returned before mid-day, he 
examined the pay-sheets in the different depart- 
ments, sent in by the assistant engineers, or by the 
foremen of the workshops. To all these he gave 
his most careful personal attention, requiring when 
necessary a full explanation of the items. 

After a late dinner, which occupied very short 


time and was always of a plain and frugal descrip- 
tion, he disposed of his correspondence, or prepared 
sketches of drawings, and gave instructions as to 
their completion. He would occasionally refresh 
himself for this evening work by a short doze, 
which, however, he would never admit had exceeded 
the limits of " winking," to use his own term. Mr. 
Frederick Swanwick, who officiated as his secretary, 
after the appointment of Mr. Gooch as Resident 
Engineer to the Bolton and Leigh Railway, has 
informed us that he then remarked — what in after 
years he could better appreciate — the clear, terse, and 
vigorous style of Mr. Stephenson's dictation. There 
was nothing superfluous in it ; but it was close, 
direct, and to the point, — in short, thoroughly 
business-like. And if, in passing through the pen 
of the amanuensis, his meaning happened in any way 
to be distorted or modified, it did not fail to escape 
his detection, though he was always tolerant of any 
liberties taken with his own form of expression, so 
long as the words written down conveyed his real 

His letters and reports written, and his sketches 
of drawings made and explained, the remainder of 
the evening was usually devoted to conversation 
with his wife and those of his pupils who lived 
under his roof, and constituted, as it were, part of 
the family. He then delighted to test the knowledge 
of his young companions, and to question them 
upon the principles of mechanics. If they were not 
quite "up to the mark" on any point, there was 
no escaping detection by evasive or specious ex- 
planations. These always brought out the verdict, 
"Ah! you know nought about it now; but think 
it over again, and tell me when you understand it" 


If there were even partial success in the reply, it 
was at once acknowledged, and a full explanation 
given, to which the master would add illustrative 
examples for the purpose of impressing the principle 
more deeply upon the pupil's mind. 

It was not so much his object and purpose to 
"cram" the minds of the young men committed 
to his charge with the results of knowledge, as to 
stimulate them to educate themselves — to induce 
them to develope their mental and moral powers 
by the exercise of their own free energies, and thus 
acquire that habit of self-thinking and self-reliance 
which is the spring of all true manly action. In 
a word, he sought to bring out and invigorate the 
character of his pupils. He felt that he himself 
had been made stronger and better through his 
encounters with difficulty ; and he would not have 
the road of knowledge made too smooth and easy 
for them. " Learn for yourselves, — think for your- 
selves," he would say : — " make yourselves masters 
of principles, — persevere, — be industrious, — and 
there is then no fear of you." And not the least 
emphatic proof of the soundness of this system of 
education, as conducted by Mr. Stephenson, was 
afforded by the after history of these pupils them- 
selves. There was not one of those trained under 
his eye who did not rise to eminent usefulness and 
distinction as an engineer. He sent them forth into 
the world braced with the spirit of manly self-help 
— inspired by his own noble example ; and they 
repeated in their after career the lessons of earnest 
effort and persistent industry which his daily life 
had taught them. 

Stephenson's evenings at home were not, how- 
ever, exclusively devoted either to business or to the 


graver exercises above referred to. He would often 
indulge in cheerful conversation and anecdote, 
falling back from time to time upon the struggles 
and difficulties of his early life. The not unfrequent 
winding up of his story addressed to the young 
men about him, was, " Ah ! ye young fellows don't 
know v/hditwark is in these days ! " Mr. Swanwick 
takes pleasure in recalling to mind how seldom, if 
ever, a cross or captious word, or an angry look 
marred the enjoyment of those evenings. The 
presence of Mrs. Stephenson gave them an additional 
charm : amiable, kind-hearted, and intelligent, she 
shared quietly in the pleasure of the party ; and 
the atmosphere of comfort which always pervaded 
her home contributed in no small degree to render 
it a centre of cheerful, hopeful intercourse, and of 
earnest, honest industry. She was a wife who well 
deserved, what she through life retained, the strong 
and unremitting affection of her husband. 

When Mr. Stephenson retired for the night, it 
was not always that he permitted himself to sink 
into slumber. Like Brindley, he worked out many 
a difficult problem in bed ; and for hours he would 
turn over in his mind and study how to overcome 
some obstacle, or to mature some project, on which 
his thoughts were bent. Some remark inadvertently 
dropped by him at the breakfast-table in the morning 
served to show that he had been stealing some 
hours from the past night in reflection and study. 
Yet he would rise at his accustomed early hour, and 
there was no abatement of his usual energy in 
carrying on the business of the day. 



ROBERT Stephenson's residence in Colombia, and 



We return to the career of Robert Stephenson, who 
had been absent from England during the con- 
struction of the Liverpool railway, but was shortly 
about to join his father and take part in ** the battle 
of the locomotive," which was now impending. 

On his return from Edinburgh College in the 
summer of 1823, he had assisted in the survey 
of the Stockton and Darlington line ; and when the 
Locomotive Engine Works were started in Forth 
Street, Newcastle, he took an active part in that 
concern. "The factory," he says, "was in active 
operation early in 1824; I left England for Colombia 
in June of that year, having finished drawing the 
designs of the Brusselton stationary engines for the 
Stockton and Darlington Railway before I left." * 

Speculation was very rife at the time; and 
amongst the most promising adventures were the 
companies organised for the purpose of working 
the gold and silver mines of South America. Great 
difficulty was experienced in finding mining engi- 
neers capable of carrying out those projects, and 

• Letter to the author. 


young men of even the most moderate experience 
were eagerly sought after. The Colombian Mining 
Association of London offered an engagement 
to young Stephenson, to go out to Mariquita and 
take charge of the engineering operations of that 
company. Robert was himself desirous of accepting 
it, but his father said it would first be necessary 
to ascertain whether the proposed change would 
be for his good. His health had been very delicate 
for some time, partly occasioned by his rapid 
growth, but principally because of his close 
application to work and study. Father and son 
together called upon Dr. Headlam, the eminent 
physician of Newcastle, to consult him on the 
subject. During the examination which ensued, 
Robert afterwards used to say that he felt as if he 
were upon trial for life or death. To his great 
relief, the doctor pronounced that a temporary 
residence in a warm climate was the very thing 
likely to be most beneficial to him. The appoint- 
ment was accordingly accepted, and, before many 
weeks had passed, Robert Stephenson set sail for 
South America. 

After a tolerably prosperous voyage he landed 
at La Guayra, on the north coast of Venezuela, 
on the 23rd July, from thence proceeding to 
Caraccas, the capital of the district, about 15 miles 
inland. There he remained for two months, unable 
to proceed in consequence of the wretched state 
of the roads in the interior. He contrived, however, 
to make occasional excursions in the neighbourhood, 
with an eye to the mining business on which he had 
come. About the beginning of October he set out 
for Bogota, the capital of Colombia or New Granada. 
The distance was about 1200 miles, through a very 


difficult region, and it was performed entirely upon 
mule-back after the fashion of the country. 

In the course of the journey Robert visited 
many of the districts reported to be rich in minerals, 
but he met with few traces except of copper, iron, 
and coal, with occasional indications of gold and 
silver. He found the people ready to furnish 
information, which, however, when tested, usually 
proved worthless. A guide, whom he employed 
for weeks, kept him buoyed up with the hope 
of richer mining quarters than he had yet seen ; but 
when he professed to be able to show him mines 
of " brass, steel, alcohol, and pinchbeck," Stephen- 
son discovered him to be an incorrigible rogue, 
and immediately dismissed him. At length our 
traveller reached Bogota, and after an interview 
with Mr. Illingworth, the commercial manager of 
the mining Company, he proceeded to Honda, 
crossed the Magdalena, and shortly after reached 
the site of his intended operations on the eastern 
slopes of the Andes. 

Mr. Stephenson used afterwards to speak in 
glowing terms of this his first mule-journey in 
South America. Everything was entirely new 
to him. The variety and beauty of the indigenous 
plants, the luxurious tropical vegetation, the 
appearance, manners, and dress of the people, and 
the mode of travelling, were altogether different 
from everything he had before seen. His own 
travelling garb also must have been strange even 
to himself " My hat," he says, " was of plaited 
grass, with a crown nine inches in height, sur- 
rounded by a brim of six inches; a white cotton 
suit ; and a ruana of blue and crimson plaid, with 
a hole in the centre for the head to pass through. 


This cloak is admirably adapted for the purpose, 
amply covering the rider and mule, and at night 
answering the purpose of a blanket in the net- 
hammock, which is made from fibres of the aloe, 
and which every traveller carries before him on 
his mule, and suspends to the trees or in houses, 
as occasion may require." The part of the journey 
which seems to have made the most lasting impres- 
sion on his mind was that between Bogota and 
the mining district in the neighbourhood of Mari- 
quita. As he ascended the slopes of the mountain- 
range, and reached the first step of the table-land, 
he was struck beyond expression with the noble 
vie>y of the valley of Magdalena behind him, so vast 
that he failed in attempting to define the point at 
which the course of the river blended with the 
horizon. Like all travellers in the district, he noted 
the remarkable changes of climate and vegetation, 
as he rose from the burning plains towards the 
fresh breath of the mountains. From an atmos- 
phere as hot as that of an oven he passed into 
delicious cool air; until, in his onward and upward 
journey, a still more temperate region was reached, 
the very perfection of climate. Before him rose the 
majestic Cordilleras, forming a rampart against the 
western skies, at certain times of the day looking 
black, sharp, and, at their summit, almost as even 
as a wall. 

Our engineer took up his abode for a time at 
Mariquita, a fine old city, though then greatly 
decayed. During the period of the Spanish 
dominion, it was an important place, most of the 
gold and silver convoys passing through it on their 
way to Cartagena, there to be shipped in galleons 
for Europe. The mountainous country to the west 


was rich in silver, gold, and other metals, and it 
was Mr. Stephenson's object to select the best site 
for commencing operations for the Company. With 
this object he " prospected " about in all directions, 
visiting long-abandoned mines, and analysing 
specimens obtained from many quarters. The 
mines eventually fixed upon as the scene of his 
operations were those of La Manta and Santa Anna, 
long before worked by the Spaniards, though, in 
consequence of the luxuriance and rapidity of the 
vegetation, all traces of the old workings had 
become completely overgrown and lost Everything 
had to be begun anew. Roads had to be cut to the 
mines, machinery to be erected, and the ground 
opened up, in course of which some of the old adits 
were hit upon. The native peons or labourers 
were not accustomed to work, and at first they 
usually contrived to desert when they were not 
watched, so that very little progress could be made 
until the arrival of the expected band of miners 
from England. The authorities were by no means 
helpful, and the engineer was driven to an old 
expedient with the object of overcoming this diffi- 
culty. ** We endeavour all we can," he says, in one 
of his letters, " to make ourselves popular, and this 
we find most effectually accomplished by * regaling 
the venal beasts.'"* He also gave a ball at Mari- 
quita, which passed off with eclat, the governor 
from Honda, with a host of friends, honouring 
it with their presence. It was, indeed, necessary 
to "make a party" in this way as other schemers 
were already trying to undermine the Colombian 
company in influential directions. The engineer 

• Letter to Mr. IlIing\\'orth, September 25th, 1825. 


did not exaggerate when he said, " The uncertainty 
of transacting business in this country is perplexing 
beyond description." 

At last, his party of miners arrived from England, 
but they gave him even more trouble than the peons 
had done. They were rough, drunken, and some- 
times altogether ungovernable. He set them to 
work at the Santa Anna mine without delay, and 
at the same time took up his abode amongst them, 
" to keep them," he said, " if possible, from indulging 
in the detestable vice of drunkenness, which, if not 
put a stop to, will eventually destroy themselves, and 
involve the mining association in ruin." To add 
to his troubles, the captain of the miners displayed 
a very hostile and insubordinate spirit, quarrelled 
and fought with the men, and was insolent to the 
engineer himself. The captain and his gang, being 
Cornish men, told Robert to his face, that because 
he was a North-country man, and not born in 
Cornwall it was impossible he should know anything 
of mining. Disease also fell upon him, — first fever, 
and then visceral derangement, followed by a return 
of his " old complaint, a feeling of oppression in the 
breast." No wonder that in the midst of these 
troubles he should longingly speak of returning to 
his native land. But he stuck to his post and his 
duty, kept up his courage, and by a mixture of 
mildness and firmness, and the display of great 
coolness of judgment, he contrived to keep the 
men to their work, and gradually to carry 
forward the enterprise which he had undertaken. 
By the beginning of July, 1826, we find that 
quietness and order had been restored, and the 
works were proceeding more satisfactorily, though 
the yield of silver was not as yet very promising. 



Mr. Stephenson calculated that at least three years' 
diligent and costly operations would be needed to 
render the mines productive. 

In the mean time he removed to the dwelling 
which had been erected for his accommodation 
at Santa Anna. It was a structure speedily raised 
after the fashion of the country. The walls were 

Robert Stephenson's Cottage at Santa Anna. 

of split and flattened bamboo, tied together with 
the long fibres of a dried climbing plant ; the roof 
was of palm-leaves, and the ceiling of reeds. When 
an earthquake shook the district — for earthquakes 
were frequent — the inmates of such a fabric merely 
felt as if shaken in a basket, without sustaining 
any harm. In front of the cottage lay a woody 
ravine, extending almost to the base of the Andes, 


gorgeously clothed in primeval vegetation— mag- 
nolias, palms, bamboos, tree-ferns, acacias, cedars ; 
and towering over all, the great almendrons, with 
their smooth, silvery stems, bearing aloft noble 
clusters of pure white blossom. The forest was 
haunted by myriads of gay insects, butterflies 
with wings of dazzling lustre, birds of brilliant 
plumage, humming-birds, golden orioles, toucans, 
and a host of solitary warblers. But the glorious 
sunsets seen from his cottage-porch more than 
all astonished and delighted the young engineer; 
and he was accustomed to say that, after having 
witnessed them, he was reluctant to accuse the 
ancient Peruvians of idolatry. 

But all these natural beauties failed to reconcile 
him to the harassing difficulties of his situation, 
which continued to increase rather than diminish. 
He was hampered by the action of the Board at home, 
who gave ear to hostile criticisms on his reports ; 
and, although they afterwards made handsome ac- 
knowledgment of his services, he felt his position 
to be altogether unsatisfactory. He therefore 
determined to leave at the expiry of his three years* 
engagement, and communicated his decision to the 
directors accordingly. On receiving his letter, the 
Board, through Mr. Richardson, of Lombard-street, 
one of the directors, communicated with his father 
at Newcastle, representing that if he would allow his 
son to remain in Colombia the Company would 
make it " worth his while." To this the father gave 
a decided negative, and intimated that he himself 
needed his son's assistance, and that he must return 
at the expiry of his three years' term, — a decision, 
writes Robert, " at which I feel much gratified, as 
it Is clear that he is as anxious to have me back in 


England as I am to get there." * At the same time, 
Edward Pease, a principal partner in the Newcastle 
firm, privately wrote Robert to the following eflfect, 
urging his return home : — '* I can assure thee that 
thy business at Newcastle, as well as thy father's 
engineering, have suffered very much from thy 
absence, and, unless thou soon return, the former 
will be given up, as Mr. Longridge is not able to g^ve 
it that attention it requires ; and what is done is not 
done with credit to the house." The idea of the 
manufactory being given up, which Robert had 
laboured so hard to establish before leaving England, 
was painful to him in the extreme, and he wrote to 
the manager of the Company, strongly urging that 
arrangements should be made for him to leave with- 
out delay. In the mean time he was again laid 
prostrate by another violent attack of aguish fever ; 
and when able to write in June, 1827, he expressed 
himself as ** completely wearied and worn down with 

At length, when he was sufficiently recovered 
from his attack and able to travel, he set out on his 
voyage homeward in the beginning of August. At 
Mompox, on his way down the river Magdalena, he 
met Mr. Bodmer, his successor, with a fresh party 
of miners from England, on their way up the country 
to the quarters which he had just quitted. Next day, 
six hours after leaving Mompox, a steamboat was 
met ascending the river, with Bolivar the Liberator 
on board, on his way to St. Bogota ; and it was a 
mortification to our engineer that he had only a 
passing sight of that distinguished person. It was 
his intention, on leaving Mariquita, to visit the 

* Letter to Mr. Illingworth, April 9th, 1827. 


Isthmus of Panama on his way home, for the purpose 
of inquiring into the practicability of cutting a canal 
to unite the Atlantic and Pacific— a project which 
then formed the subject of considerable public dis- 
cussion ; but his presence being so anxiously desired 
at home, he determined to proceed to New York 
without delay. 

Arrived at the port of Cartagena, he had to wait 
some time for a ship. The delay was very irksome 
to him, the more so as the city was then desolated 
by the ravages of the yellow fever. While sitting 
one day in the large, bare, comfortless public room 
of the miserable hotel at which he put up, he 
observed two strangers, whom he at once perceived 
to be English. One of the strangers was a tall, 
gaunt man, shrunken and hollow-looking, shabbily 
dressed, and apparently poverty-stricken. On 
making inquiry, he found it was Trevithick, the 
builder of the first railroad locomotive ! He was re- 
turning home from the gold-mines of Peru penniless. 
He had left England in 1816, with powerful steam- 
engines, intended for the drainage and working of 
the Peruvian mines. He met with almost a royal 
reception on his landing at Lima. A guard of 
honour was appointed to attend him, and it was even 
proposed to erect a statue of Don Ricardo Trevithick 
in solid silver. It was given forth in Cornwall that 
his emoluments amounted to 100,000/. a year,* and 
that he was making a gigantic fortune. Great, 
therefore, was Robert Stephenson's surprise to find 
this potent Don Ricardo in the inn at Cartagena, 
reduced almost to his last shilling, and unable to 
proceed further. He had indeed realised the truth 

• * Geological Transactions of Cornwall,' i. 222. 
V. R 


of the Spanish proverb, that "a silver-mine brings 
misery, a gold-mine ruin." He and his friend had 
lost everything in their journey across the country 
from Peru. They had forded rivers and wandered 
through forests, leaving all their baggage behind 
them, and had reached thus far with little more 
than the clothes upon their backs. Almost the only 
remnant of precious metal saved by Trevi thick was 
a pair of silver spurs, which he took back with him 
to Cornwall. Robert Stephenson lent him 50/. to 
enable him to reach England ; and though he was 
afterwards heard of as an inventor there, he had 
no further part in the ultimate triumph of the loco- 

But Trevithick s misadventures on this occasion 
had not yet ended, for before he reached New York 
he was wrecked, and Robert Stephenson with him. 
The following is the account of the voyage, "big 
with adventures," as given by the latter in a letter to 
his friend Illingworth : — ** At first we had very little 
foul weather, and indeed were for several days 
becalmed amongst the islands, which was so far 
fortunate, for a few degrees further north the most 
tremendous gales were blowing, and they appear 
(from our future information) to have wrecked every 
vessel exposed to their violence. We had two 
examples of the effects of the hurricane ; for, as we 
sailed north we took on board the remains of two 
crews found floating about on dismantled hulls. 
The one had been nine days without food of any 
kind, except the carcasses of two of their companions 
who had died a day or two previously from fatigue 
and hunger. The other crew had been driven about 
for six days, and were not so dejected, but reduced 
to such a weak state that they were obliged to be 


drawn on board our vessel by ropes. A brig bound 
for Havannah took part of the men, and we took 
the remainder. To attempt any description of my 
feelings on witnessing such scenes would be in vain. 
You will not be surprised to learn that I felt some- 
what uneasy at the thought that we were so far from 
England, and that I also might possibly suflFer similar 
shipwreck ; but I consoled myself with the hope that 
fate would be more kind to us. It was not so much 
so, however, as I had flattered myself; for on 
voyaging towards New York, after we had made the 
land, we ran aground about midnight. The vessel 
soon filled with water, and, being surrounded by the 
breaking surf, the ship was soon split up, and before 
morning our situation became perilous. Masts and 
all were cut away to prevent the hull rocking ; but 
all we could do was of no avail. About 8 o'clock on 
the following morning, after a most miserable night, 
we were taken off the wreck, and were so fortunate 
as to reach the shore. I saved my minerals, but 
Empson lost part of his botanical collection. Upon 
the whole, we got off well ; and, had I not been on 
the American side of the Atlantic, I 'guess ' I would 
not have gone to sea again." 

After a short tour in the United States and 
Canada, Robert Stephenson and his friend took 
ship for Liverpool, where they arrived at the end 
of November, and at once proceeded to Newcastle. 
The factory was by no means in a prosperous state. 
During the time Robert had been in America it had 
been carried on at a loss ; and Edward Pease, much 
disheartened, wished to retire, but George Stephen- 
son was unable to buy him out, and the establish- 
ment had to be carried on in the hope that the 
locomotive might yet be established in public 

R 2 


estimation as a practical and economical working 
power. Robert Stephenson immediately instituted 
a rigid inquiry into the working of the concern, 
unravelled the accounts, which had fallen into 
confusion during his father's absence at Liverpool : 
and he soon succeeded in placing the affairs of the 
factory in a more healthy condition. In all this he 
had the hearty support of his father, as well as of 
the other partners. 

The works of the Liverpool and Manchester 
Railway were now approaching completion. But, 
singular to say, the directors had not yet decided as. 
to the tractive power to be employed in working 
the line when opened for traffic. The differences 
of opinion among them were so great as apparently 
to be irreconcilable. It was necessary, however, that 
they should come to some decision without further 
loss of time ; and many Board meetings were 
accordingly held to discuss the subject. The old- 
fashioned and well-tried system of horse haulage 
was not without its advocates ; but, looking at the 
large amount of traffic which there was to be con- 
veyed, and at the probable delay in the transit from 
station to station if this method were adopted, the 
directors, after a visit made by them to the North- 
umberland and Durham railways in 1828, came 
to the conclusion that the employment of horse 
power was inadmissible. 

Fixed engines had many advocates ; the loco- 
motive very few ; it stood as yet almost in a minority 
of one — George Stephenson. The prejudice against 
the employment of the latter power had even 
increased since the Liverpool and Manchester Bill 
underwent its first ordeal in the House of Commons. 
In proof of this, we may mention that the New- 


castle and Carlisle Railway Act was conceded in 
1829, on the express condition that it should not be 
worked by locomotives, but by horses only. 

Grave doubts existed as to the practicability 
of working a large traffic by means of travelling 
engines. The most celebrated engineers oflFered no 
opinion on the subject. They did not believe in the 
locomotive, and would scarcely take the trouble 
to examine it. The ridicule with which George 
Stephenson had been assailed by the barristers 
before the Parliamentary Committee had not been 
altogether distasteful to them. Perhaps they did 
not relish the idea of a man who had picked up his 
experience in Newcastle coal-pits appearing in the 
capacity of a leading engineer before Parliament, 
and attempting to establish a new system of internal 
communication in the country. The directors could 
not disregard the adverse and conflicting views of 
the professional men whom they consulted. But 
Mr. Stephenson had so repeatedly and earnestly 
urged upon them the propriety of making a trial 
of the locomotive before coming to any decision 
against it, that they at length authorised him to 
proceed with the construction of one of his engines 
by way of experiment. In their report to the pro- 
prietors at their annual meeting on the 27th March, 
1828, they state that they had, after due consideration, 
authorised the engineer '*to prepare a locomotive 
engine, which, from the nature of its construction 
and from the experiments already made, he is of 
opinion will be effective for the purposes of the Com- 
pany, without proving an annoyance to the public." 
The locomotive thus ordered was placed upon the 
line in 1829, and was found of great service in drawing 
the waggons full of marl from the two great cuttings. 


In the meantime the discussion proceeded as to 
the kind of power to be permanently employed for 
the working of the railway. The directors were 
inundated with schemes of all sorts for facilitating 
locomotion. The projectors of England, France, 
and America, seemed to be let loose upon them. 
There were plans for working the waggons along 
the line by water-power. Some proposed hydrogen, 
and others carbonic acid gas. Atmospheric pressure 
had its eager advocates. And various kinds of 
fixed and locomotive steam-power were suggested. 
Thomas Gray urged his plan of a greased road with 
cog rails; and Messrs. VignoUes and Ericsson re- 
commended the adoption of a central friction rail, 
against which two horizontal rollers under the 
locomotive, pressing upon the sides of this 
rail, were to aflFord the means of ascending the 
inclined planes. The directors felt themselves 
quite unable to choose from amidst this multitude 
of projects. The engineer expressed himself as 
decidedly as heretofore in favour of smooth rails and 
locomotive engines, which, he was confident, would 
be found the most economical and by far the most 
convenient moving power that could be employed. 
The Stockton and Darlington Railway being now 
at work, another deputation went down personally 
to inspect the fixed and locomotive engines on that 
line, as well as at Hetton and Killingworth. They 
returned to Liverpool with much information; but 
their testimony as to the relative merits of the 
two kinds of engines was so contradictory, that the 
directors were as far from a decision as ever. 

They then resolved to call to their aid two 
professional engineers of high standing, who should 
visit the Darlington and Newcastle railways, care- 


fully examine both modes of working — the fixed 
and the locomotive, — and report to them fully 
on the subject. The gentlemen selected were 
Mr. Walker of Limehouse, and Mr. Rastrick of 
Stourbridge. After carefully examining the modes 
of working the northern railways, they made their 
report to the directors in the spring of 1829. They 
concurred in the opinion that the cost of an 
establishment of fixed engines would be somewhat 
greater than that of locomotives to do the same 
work ; but thought the annual charge would be less 
if the former were adopted. They calculated that 
the cost of moving a ton of goods thirty miles 
by fixed engines would be &4od,y and by locomotives, 
8'36</., — assuming a profitable traffic to be obtained 
both ways. At the same time it was admitted that 
there appeared more ground for expecting improve- 
ments in the construction and working of locomo- 
tives than of stationary engines. On the whole, 
however, and looking especially at the computed 
annual charge of working the road on the two 
systems on a large scale, the two reporting 
engineers were of opinion that fixed engines were 
preferable, and accordingly recommended their 
adoption. And, in order to carry the system 
recommended by them into eflFect, they proposed 
to divide the railroad between Liverpool and 
Manchester into nineteen stages of about a mile 
and a half each, with twenty-one engines fixed 
at the diflFerent points to work the trains forward. 

Such was the result, so far, of George Stephen- 
son's labours. Two of the best practical engineers 
of the day concurred in reporting substantially in 
favour of the employment of fixed engines. Not 
a single professional man of eminence supported 

248 Stephenson's persistence [chap xi 

the engineer in his preference for locomotive over 
fixed engine power. He had scarcely an adherent, 
and the locomotive system seemed on the eve 
of being abandoned. Still he did not despair. 
With the profession as well as public opinion 
against him — for the most frightful stories were 
abroad respecting the dangers, the unsightliness, 
and the nuisance which the locomotive would create 
— Stephenson held to his purpose. Even in this, 
apparently the darkest hour of the locomotive, 
he did not hesitate to declare that locomotive 
railroads would, before many years had passed, 
be " the great highways of the world." 

He urged his views upon the directors in all 
ways, and, as some of them thought, at all seasons. 
He pointed out the greater convenience of locomo- 
tive power for the purposes of a public highway, 
likening it to a series of short unconnected chains, 
any one of which could be removed and another 
substituted without interruption to the traffic; 
whereas the fixed engine system might be regarded 
in the light of a continuous chain extending between 
the two termini, the failure of any link of which 
would derange the whole.* He represented to the 
Board that the locomotive was yet capable of g^eat 

* The arguments used by Mr. Stephenson with the directors, in 
favour of the locomotive engine, were afterwards collected and 
published in 1S30 by Robert Stephenson and Joseph Locke, as 
"compiled from the Reports of Mr. George Stephenson." The 
pamphlet was entitled, * Observations on the Comparative Merits 
of Locomotive and Fixed Engines.* Robert Stephenson, speaking 
of tjie authorship many years after, said, " I believe I furnished the 
facts and the arguments, and Locke put them into shape. Locke 
was a very flowery writer, whereas my style was rather bald and 
unattractive ; so he was the editor of the pamphlet, which excited a 
good deal of attention amongst engineers at the time." 


improvements, if proper inducements were held 
out to inventors and machinists to make them ; 
and he pledged himself that, if time were given 
him, he would construct an engine that should 
satisfy their requirements, and prove itself capable 
of working heavy loads along the railway with 
speed, regularity and safety. At length, influenced 
by his persistent earnestness not less than by his 
arguments, the directors, at the suggestion of Mr. 
Harrison, determined to offer a prize of 500/. for 
the best locomotive engine, which, on a certain 
day, should be produced on the railway, and 
perform certain specified conditions in the most 
satisfactory manner.* 

* The conditions were these : — 

1. The engine must effectually consume its own smoke. 

2. The engine, if of six tons weight, must be able to draw after 
it, day by day, twenty tons weight (including the tender and water- 
tank) at ten miles an hour, with a pressure of steam on the boiler 
not exceeding fifty pounds to the square inch. 

3. The boiler must have two safety-valves, neither of which must 
be fastened down, and one of them be completely out of the control 
of the engineman. 

4. The engine and boiler must be supported on springs, and rest 
on six wheels, the height of the whole not exceeding fifteen feet to 
the top of the chimney. 

5. The engine, with water, must not weigh more than six tons ; 
but an engine of less weight would be preferred on its drawing a 
proportionate load behind it ; if only four and a. half tons, then it 
might be put on only four wheels. The Company to be at liberty 
to test the boiler, &c., by a pressure of one hundred and fifty 
pounds to the square inch. 

6. A mercurial gauge must be affixed to the machine, showing 
the steam pressure above forty- five pounds per square inch. 

7. The engine must be delivered, complete and ready for trial, 
at the Liverpool end of the railway, not later than the ist of 
October, 1829. 

8. The price of the engine must not exceed 550/. 


It was now felt that the fate of railways in a 
great measure depended upon the issue of this 
appeal to the mechanical genius of England. When 
the advertisement of the prize for the best loco- 
motive was published, scientific men began more 
particularly to direct their attention to the new 
power which was thus struggling into existence. 
In the mean time public opinion on the subject 
of railway working remained suspended, and the 
progress of the undertaking was watched with 
intense interest. 

During the progress of the discussion with 
reference to the kind of power to be employed, 
Mr. Stephenson was in constant communication 
with his son Robert, who made frequent visits to 
Liverpool for the purpose of assisting his father 
in the preparation of his reports to the Board on 
the subject. They had also many conversations 
as to the best mode of increasing the powers and 
perfecting the mechanism of the locomotive. These 
became more frequent and interesting, when the 
prize was oflFered for the best locomotive, and the 
working plans of the engine which they proposed 
to construct came to be settled. 

One of the most important considerations in the 
new engine was the arrangement of the boiler and 
the extension of its heating surface to enable steam 
enough to be raised rapidly and continuously, for 
the purpose of maintaining high rates of speed, — 
theeflFect of high-pressure engines being ascertained 
to depend mainly upon the quantity of steam 
which the boiler can generate, and upon its 
degree of elasticity when produced. The quantity 
of steam so generated, it will be obvious, must 
depend chiefly upon the quantity of fuel con- 


sumed in the furnace, and by necessary conse- 
quence, upon the high rate of temperature main- 
tained there. 

It will be remembered that in Stephenson's first 
Killingworth engines he invented and applied the 
ingenious method of stimulating combustion in the 
furnace, by throwing the waste steam into the 
chimney after performing its office in the cylinders, 
thus accelerating the ascent of the current of air, 
greatly increasing the draught, and consequently 
the temperature of the fire. This plan was adopted 
by him, as we have already seen, as early as 1815 ; 
and it was so successful that he himself attributed 
to it the greater economy of the locomotive as 
compared with horse power. Hence the con- 
tinuance of its use upon the Killingworth Railway. 

Though the adoption of the steam-blast greatly 
quickened combustion and contributed to the rapid 
production of high-pressure steam, the limited 
amount of heating surface presented to the fire 
was still felt to be an obstacle to the complete 
success of the locomotive engine. Mr. Stephenson 
endeavoured to overcome this by lengthening the 
boilers and increasing the surface presented by the 
flue-tubes. The "Lancashire Witch," which he 
built for the Boulton and Leigh Railway, and used 
in forming the Liverpool and Manchester Railway 
embankments, was constructed with a double tube, 
each of which contained a fire and passed longitu- 
dinally through the boiler. But this arrangement 
necessarily led to a considerable increase in the 
weight of the engine, which amounted to about 
twelve tons ; and as six tons was the limit allowed 
for engines admitted to the Liverpool competition, 
it was clear that the time was come when the 


Killingworth locomotive must undergo a further 
important modification. 

For many years previous to this period, ingeni- 
ous mechanics had been engaged in attempting to 
solve the problem of the best and most economi- 
cal boiler for the production of high-pressure 
steam. As early as 1803, Mr. Woolf patented 
a tubular boiler, which was extensively emploj^ed 
at the Cornish mines, and was found greatly to 
facilitate the production of steam, by the extension 
of the heating surface. The ingenious Trevithick, 
in his patent of 1815, seems also to have entertained 
the idea of employing a boiler constructed of 
"small perpendicular tubes," with the same object 
of increasing the heating surface. These tubes 
were to be closed at the bottom, and open into a 
common reservoir, from which they were to receive 
their water, and where the steam of all the tubes 
was to be united. 

About the same time George Stephenson was try- 
ing the effect of introducing small tubes in the boilers 
of his locomotives, with the object of increasing 
their evaporative power. Thus, in. 1829, he sent 
to France two engines constructed at the New- 
castle works for the Lyons and St. Etienne Railway, 
in the boilers of which tubes were placed containing 
water. The heating surface was thus found to be 
materially increased; but the expedient was not 
successful, for the tubes becoming furred with 
deposit, shortly burned out and were removed. 
It was then that M. Seguin, the engineer of the 
railway, pursuing the same idea, adopted his plan 
of employing horizontal tubes through which the 
heated air passed in streamlets. Mr. Henry Booth, 
the secretary of the Liverpool and Manchester 


Railway, without any knowledge of M. Seguin's 
proceedings, next devised his plan of a tubular 
boiler, which he brought under the notice of Mr. 
Stephenson, who at once adopted it, and settled 
the mode in which the fire-box and tubes were 
to be mutually arranged and connected. This 
plan was adopted in the construction of the 
celebrated " Rocket " engine, the building of which 
was immediately proceeded with at the Newcastle 

The principal circumstances connected with 
the construction of the " Rocket," as described by 
Robert Stephenson to the author, may be briefly 
stated. The tubular principle was adopted in a 
more complete manner than had yet been attempted. 
Twenty-five copper tubes, each three inches in 
diameter, extended from one end of the boiler to 
the other, the heated air passing through them on 
its way to the chimney ; and the tubes being 
surrounded by the water of the boiler, it will be 
obvious that a large extension of the heating surface 
was thus effectually secured. The principal diffi- 
culty was in fitting the copper tubes within the 
boiler so as to prevent leakage. They were made 
by a Newcastle coppersmith, and soldered to brass 
screws which were screwed into the boiler ends, 
standing out in great knobs. When the tubes 
were thus fitted, and the boiler was filled with 
water, hydraulic pressure was applied ; but the 
water squirted out at every joint, and the factory 
floor was soon flooded. Robert went home in 
despair; and in the first moment of grief, he 
wrote to his father that the whole thing was a 
failure. By return of post came a letter from his 
father, telling him that despair was not to be 


thought of— that he must "try again"; and he 
suggested a mode of overcoming the difficulty, 
which his son had already anticipated and pro- 
ceeded to adopt. It was, to bore clean holes in 
the boiler ends, fit in the smooth copper tubes 
as tightly as possible, solder up, and then raise 
the steam. This plan succeeded perfectly, the 
expansion of the copper tubes completely filling up 
all interstices, and producing a perfectly watertight 
boiler, capable of withstanding extreme internal 

The mode of employing the steam-blast for 
the purpose of increasing the draught in the chim- 
ney, was also the subject of numerous experiments. 
When the engine was first tried, it was thought 
that the blast in the chimney was not strong 
enough to keep up the intensity of the fire in the 
furnace, so as to produce high-pressure steam in 
sufficient quantity. The expedient was therefore 
adopted of hammering the copper tubes at the 
point at which they entered the chimney, whereby 
the blast was considerably sharpened ; and on further 
trial it was found that the draught was increased 
to such an extent as to enable abundance of 
steam to be raised. The rationale of the blast 
may be simply explained by referring to the 
effect of contracting the pipe of a water-hose, 
by which the force of the jet of water is propor- 
tionately increased. Widen the nozzle of the pipe, 
and the force is in like manner diminished. So 
is it with the steam-blast in the chimney of the 

Doubts were, however, expressed whether the 
greater draught secured by the contraction of the 
blast-pipe was not counterbalanced in some degree 


by the negative pressure upon the piston* A series 
of experiments was made with pipes of different 
diameters ; the amount of vacuum produced being 
determined by a glass tube open at both ends, 
which was fixed to the bottom of the smoke-box, 
and descended into a bucket of water. As the rare- 
faction took place, the water would of course rise 
in the tube ; and the height to which it rose above 

the surface of the water in the bucket was made 
the measure of the amount of rarefaction. These 
experiments proved that a considerable increase 
of draught was obtained by the contraction of the 
orifice ; accordingly, the two blast-pipes opening 
from the cylinders into either side of the " Rocket " 
chimney, and turned up within it, were contracted 
slightly below the area of the steam-ports; and 
before the engine left the factory, the water rose 


in the glass tube three inches above the water in 
the bucket. 

The other arrangements of the " Rocket " were 
briefly these: — the boiler was cyhndrical with 
flat ends, 6 feet in length, and 3 feet 4 inches in 
diameter. The upper half of the boiler was used 
as a reservoir for the steam, the lower half being 
filled with water. Through the lower part, 25 
copper tubes of 3 inches diameter extended, which 
were open to the fire-box at one end, and to the 
chimney at the other. The fire-box, or furnace, 2 
feet wide and 3 feet high, was attached immediately 
behind the boiler, and was also surrounded with 
water. The cylinders of the engine were placed on 
each side of the boiler, in an oblique position, one 
end being nearly level with the top of the boiler at 
its after end, and the other pointing towards the 
centre of the foremost or driving pair of wheels, 
with which the connection was directly made from 
the piston-rod, to a pin on the outside of the wheel. 
The engine, together with its load of water, 
weighed only 4^ tons, and was supported on four 
wheels, not coupled. The tender was four-wheeled, 
and similar in shape to a waggon, — the foremost part 
holding the fuel, and the hind part a water-cask. 

When the ** Rocket " was finished, it was placed 
upon the Killingworth railway for the purpose of 
experiment. The new boiler arrangement was 
found perfectly successful. The steam was raised 
rapidly and continuously, and in a quantity which 
then appeared marvellous. The same evening 
Robert despatched a letter to his father at Liverpool 
informing him, to his great joy, that the " Rocket " 
was **all right," and would be in complete working 
trim by the day of trial. The engine was shortly 





CHAP Xl] THE "rocket'* FINISHED 25/ 

after sent by waggon to Carlisle, and thence shipped 
for Liverpool. 

The time so much longed for by George 
Stephenson had now arrived, when the merit of 
the passenger locomotive was to be put to a public 
test. He had fought the battle for it until now 
almost single-handed. Engrossed by his daily 
labours and anxieties, and harassed by difficulties 
and discouragements which would have crushed 
the spirit of a less resolute man, he had held 
firmly to his purpose through good and through 
evil report. The hostility which he experienced 
from some of the directors opposed to the adop- 
tion of the locomotive, was the circumstance 
that caused him the greatest grief of all ; for 
where he had looked for encouragement, he 
found only carping and opposition. But his 
pluck never failed him ; and now the " Rocket " 
was upon the ground, — to prove, to use his own 
words, " whether he was a man of his word 
or not." 

Great interest was felt at Liverpool, as well as 
throughout the country, in the approaching com- 
petition. Engineers, scientific men, and mechanics, 
arrived from all quarters to witness the novel display 
of mechanical ingenuity on which such great results 
depended. The public generally were no indifferent 
spectators either. The inhabitants of Liverpool, 
Manchester, and the adjacent towns felt that the 
successful issue of the experiment would confer 
upon them individual benefits and local advan- 
tages almost incalculable, whilst populations at a 
distance waited for the result with almost equal 

On the day appointed for the great competition 
v. s 


of locomotives at Rainhill, the following engines 
were entered for the prize : — 

1. Messrs. Braithwaite and Ericsson's* 
" Novelty." 

2. Mr. Timothy Hackworth's ** Sanspareil." 

3. Messrs. R. Stephenson and Co.'s '* Rocket." 

4. Mr. Burstairs " Perseverance." 

Another engine was entered by Mr. Brandreth 
of Liverpool — the ''Cycloped," weighing 3 tons, 
worked by a horse in a frame, but it could not be 
admitted to the competition. The above were the 
only four exhibited, out of a considerable number 
of engines constructed in different parts of the 
country in anticipation of this contest, many of 
which could not be satisfactorily completed by the 
day of trial. 

The ground on which the engines were to be 
tried was a level piece of railroad, about two miles 
in length. Each was required to make twenty trips, 
or equal to a journey of 70 miles in the course of 
the day ; and the average rate of travelling was to 
be not under 10 miles an hour. It was determined 
that, to avoid confusion, each engine should be tried 
separately, and on different days. 

The day fixed for the competition was the ist 
of October, but to allow sufficient time to get the 
locomotives into good working order, the directors 
extended it to the 6th. On the morning of the 6th, 
the ground at Rainhill presented a lively appearance, 

* The inventor of this engine was a Swede, who afterwards 
proceeded to the United States, and there achieved considerable 
distinction as an engineer. His Caloric Engine has so far proved a 
failure, but his iron cupola vessel, the " Monitor," must be admitted 
to have been a remarkable success in its way. 


and there was as much excitement as if the St. Lcger 
were about to be run. Many thousand spectators 
looked on, amongst whom were some of the first 
engineers and mechanicians of the day. A stand 
was provided for the ladies; the "beauty and 
fashion" of the neighbourhood were present, and 
the side of the railroad was lined with carriages of 
all descriptions. 

It- was- quite characteristic of the Stephensons, 
that, although their engine did not stand first on the 

Locomotive coinpetiuon at Rainhill. 

list for trial, it was the first that was ready ; and it 
was accordingly ordered out by the judges for an 
experimental trip. Yet the " Rocket " was by no 
means " the favourite " with either the judges or the 
spectators. A majority of the judges was strongly 
predisposed in favour of the " Novelty," and nine- 
tenths of those present were against the " Rocket " 
because of its appearance. Nearly every person 
favoured some other engine, so that there was 
nothing for the ** Rocket" but the practical test. 
The first trip which it made was quite successful. 

s 2 


It ran about 12 miles, without interruption, in about 
S3 minutes. 

The "Novelty" was next called out. It was a 
light engine, very compact in appearance, carrying 
the water and fuel upon the same wheels as the 
engine. The weight of the whole was only 3 tons 
and I hundredweight. A peculiarity of this engine 
was that the air was driven or forced through the 
fire by means of bellows. The day being now far 
advanced, and some dispute having arisen as to 
the method of assigning the proper load for the 
" Novelty," no particular experiment was made, 
further than that the engine traversed the line by 
way of exhibition, occasionally moving at the rate of 
24 miles an hour. The " Sanspareil," constructed by 
Mr. Timothy Hackworth, was next exhibited ; but no 
particular experiment was made with it on this day. 

The contest was postponed until the following 
day, but before the judges arrived on the ground, 
the bellows for creating the blast in the " Novelty " 
gave way, and it was found incapable of going 
through its performance. A defect was also detected 
in the boiler of the "Sanspareil"; and some further 
time was allowed to get it repaired. The large 
number of spectators who had assembled to witness 
the contest was greatly disappointed at this postpone- 
ment; but, to lessen it, Stephenson again brought 
out the '* Rocket," and, attaching to it a coach con- 
taining thirty persons, he ran them along the line at 
the rate of from 24 to 30 miles an hour, much to 
their gratification and amazement. Before separat- 
ing, the judges ordered the engine to be in readi- 
ness by eight o'clock on the following morning, to 
go through its definitive trial according to the pre- 
scribed conditions. 


On the morning of the 8th October, the '* Rocket " 
was again ready for the contest The engine was 
taken to the extremity of the stage, the fire-box was 
filled with coke, the fire lighted, and the steam 
raised until it lifted the safety-valve loaded to a 
pressure of 50 pounds to the square inch. This ppo- 
ceeding occupied fifty-seven minutes. The engine 
then started on its journey, dragging after it about 
13 tons weight in waggons, and made the first ten 
trips backwards and forv^^ards along the two miles 
of road, running the 35 miles, including stoppages, 
in one hour and 48 minutes. The second ten trips 
were in like manner performed in 2 hours and 3 
minutes. The maximum velocity attained during 
the trial trip was 29 miles an hour, or about three 
times the speed that one of the judges of the com- 
petition had declared to be the limit of possibilit}''. 
The average speed at which the whole of the 
journeys were performed was 1 5 miles an hour, or 
5 miles beyond the rate specified in the conditions 
published by the Company. The entire performance 
excited the greatest astonishment amongst the 
assembled spectators; the directors felt confident 
that their enterprise was now on the eve of success ; 
and George Stephenson rejoiced to think that in 
spite of all false prophets and fickle counsellors, 
the locomotive system was now safe. When the 
"Rocket," having performed all the conditions of 
the contest, arrived at the "grand stand" at the 
close of its day's successful run, Mr. Cropper — one 
of the directors favourable to the fixed-engine 
system—lifted up his hands, and exclaimed, " Now 
has George Stephenson at last delivered himself!" 

Neither the "Novelty" nor the "Sanspareil" 
was ready for trial until the loth, on the morning 


of which day an advertisement appeared, stating that 
the former engine was to be tried on that day, when 
it would perform more work than any engine upon 
the ground. The weight of the carriages attached 
to it was only about 7 tons. The engine passed the 
first post in good style ; but in returning, the pipe 
from the forcing-pump burst and put an end to the 
trial. The pipe was afterwards repaired, and the 
engine made several trips by itself, in which it was 
said to have gone at the rate of from 24 to 28 miles 
an hour. 

The "Sanspareil " was not ready until the 13th ; 
and when its boiler and tender were filled with 
water, it was found to weigh 4 cwt. beyond the 
weight specified in the published conditions as 
the limit of four-wheeled engines ; nevertheless the 
judges allowed it to run on the same footing as the 
other engines, to enable them to ascertain whether 
its merits entitled it to favourable consideration. 
It travelled at the average speed of about 14 miles 
an hour, with its load attached; but at the eighth 
trip the cold-water pump got wrong, and the engipe 
could proceed no further. 

It was determined to award the premium to the 
successful engine on the following day, the 14th, on 
which occasion there was an unusual assemblage of 
spectators. The owners of the " Novelty" pleaded 
for another trial ; and it was conceded. But again 
it broke down. The owner of the ** Sanspareil " 
also requested the opportunity for making another 
trial of his engine. But the judges had now had 
enough of failures ; and they declined, on the ground 
that not only was the engine above the stipulated 
weight, but that it was constructed on a plan which 
they could not recommend for adoption by the 


directors of the Company. One of the principal 
practical objections to this locomotive was the 
enormous quantity of coke consumed or wasted 
by it — about 692 lbs. per hour when travelling — 
caused by the sharpness of the steam-blast in the 
chimney, which blew a large proportion of the 
burning coke into the air. 

The " Perseverance " was found unable to move 
at more than five or six miles an hour ; and it was 
withdrawn from the contest at an early period. 
The '* Rocket" was thus the only engine that had 
performed, and more than performed, all the stipu- 
lated conditions ; and its owners were declared to 
be fully entitled to the prize of 500/., which was 
awarded to the Messrs. Stephenson and Booth 
accordingly. And further, to show that the engine 
had been working quite within its powers, Mr. 
Stephenson ordered it to be brought upon the 
ground and detached from all incumbrances, when, 
in making two trips, it was found to travel at the 
astonishing rate of 35 miles an hour. 

The " Rocket " had thus eclipsed the perform- 
ances of all locomotive engines that had yet been 
constructed, and outstripped even the sanguine 
expectations of its constructors. It satisfactorily 
answered the report of Messrs. Walker and Ras- 
trick; and established the efficiency of the loco- 
motive for working the Liverpool and Manchester 
Railway, and indeed all future railways. The 
" Rocket " showed that a new power had been born 
into the world, full of activity and strength, w-ith 
boundless capability of work. It was the simple but 
admirable contrivance of the steam-blast, and its 
combination with the multitubular boiler, that at 
once gave the locomotive a vigorous life, and secured 


the triumph of the railway system.* It has been 
well observed, that this wonderful ability to increase 
and. multiply its powers of performance with the 
emergency that demands them, has made this giant 
engine the noblest creation of human wit, the very 
lion among machines. The success of the Rainhill 
experiment, as judged by the public, may be inferred 
from the fact that the shares of the Company im- 
mediately rose ten per cent., and nothing more was 
heard of the proposed twenty-one fixed engines, 
engine-houses, ropes, &c. All this cumbersome 
apparatus was thenceforward eflfectually disposed of. 
Very different now was the tone of those 
directors who had distinguished themselves by the 
persistency of their opposition to Mr. Stephenson's 
plans. Coolness gave way to eulogy, and hostility 
to unbounded offers of friendship — after the manner 
of many men who run to the help of the strong. 
Deeply though the engineer had felt aggrieved by 
the conduct pursued towards him during this event- 
ful struggle, by some from whom forbearance was 
to have been expected, he never entertained toward? 
them in after life any angry feelings ; on the con- 
trary he forgave all. But though the directors 
afterwards passed unanimous resolutions eulogising 
"the great skill and unwearied energy" of their 
engineer, he himself, when speaking confidentially 
to those with whom he was most intimate, could not 
help pointing out the difference between his ** foul- 
weather and fair-weather friends." Mr. Gooch says 
of him that though naturally most cheerful and 
kind-hearted in his disposition, the anxiety and 

* "The Rocket " is now to be seen at the Museum of Patents 
at Kensington, where it is carefully preserved. 




pressure which weighed upon his mind during the 
construction of the railway had the effect of making 
him occasionally impatient and irritable, like a 
spirited horse touched by the spur; though his 
original goodnature from time to time shone through 
it all. When the line had been brought to a success- 
ful completion, a very marked change in him became 
visible. The irritability passed away, and when 
difficulties and vexations arose they were treated by 
him as matters of course, and with perfect composure 
and cheerfulness. 

Railway versus Road. 




The directors of the Railway now began to see 
daylight ; and they derived encouragement from the 
skilful manner in which their engineer had overcome 
the principal difficulties of the undertaking. He had 
formed a solid road over Chat Moss, and thus achieved 
one ** impossibility " ; and he had constructed a loco- 
motive that could run at a speed of 30 miles an hour, 
thus vanquishing a still more formidable difficulty. 

A single line of way was completed over Chat 
Moss b}' the ist of January, 1830; and on that day, 
the " Rocket " with a carriage full of directors, 
engineers, and their friends, passed along the greater 
part of the road between Liverpool and Manchester. 
Mr. Stephenson continued to direct his close atten- 
tion to the improvement of the details of the 
locomotive, every successive trial of which proved 
more satisfactory. In this department he had the 
benefit of the able and unremitting assistance of his 
son, who, in the workshops at Newcastle, directly 
superintended the construction of the new engines 
required for the public working of the railway. He 
did not by any means rest satisfied with the success, 
decided though it was, which had been achieved by 


the " Rocket." He regarded* it but in the light of a 
successful experiment ; and every succeeding engine 
placed upon the railway exhibited some improve- 
ment on its predecessors. The arrangement of the 
parts, and the weight and proportions of the engines, 
were altered, as the experience of each successive 
day, or week, or month, suggested ; and it was soon 
found that the performances of the " Rocket " on the 
day of trial had been greatly within the. powers of 
the locomotive. 

The first entire trip between Liverpool and 
Manchester was performed on the 14th of June, 
1830, on the occasion of a Board meeting being held 
at the latter town. The train was on this occasion 
drawn by the " Arrow," one of the new locomotives, 
in which the most recent improvements had been 
adopted. Mr. Stephenson himself drove the engine, 
and Captain Scoresby, the circumpolar navigator, 
stood beside him on the foot-plate, and minuted the 
speed of the train. A great concourse of people 
assembled at both termini, as well as aldng the line, 
to witness the novel spectacle of a train of carriages 
dragged by an engine at a speed of 17 miles an hour. 
On the return journey to Liverpool in the evening, 
the " Arrow " crossed Chat Moss at a speed of nearly 
27 miles an hour, reaching its destination in about 
an hour and a half. 

In the mean time Mr. Stephenson and his 
assistants were diligently occupied in making the 
necessary preliminary arrangements for the conduct 
of the traffic against the time when the line should 
be ready for opening. The experiments made with 
the object of carrjdng on the passenger traffic at 
quick velocities were of an especially harassing and 
anxious character. Every week, for nearly three 


months before the opening, trial trips were made to 
Newton and back, generally with two or three trains 
following each other, and carrying altogether from 
200 to 300 persons. These trips were usually made 
on Saturday afternoons, when the works could be 
more conveniently stopped and the line cleared. In 
these experiments Mr. Stephenson had the able 
assistance of Mr. Henry Booth, the secretary of the 
Company, who contrived many of the arrangements 
in the rolling stock, not the least valuable of which 
was his invention of the coupling screw, still in use 
on all passenger railways. 

At length the line was finished, and ready for the 
public ceremony of the opening, which took place 
on the 15th September, 1830, and attracted a vast 
number of spectators. The completion of the rail- 
way was justly regarded as an important national 
event, and the opening was celebrated accordingly. 
The Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, Sir 
Robert Peel, and Mr. Huskisson, one of the members 
for Liverpool, were among the number of distin- 
guished public personages present. 

Eight locomotive engines, constructed at the 
Stephenson works, had been delivered and placed 
upon the line, the whole of which had been tried 
and tested weeks before, with perfect success. The 
several trains of carriages accommodated in all about 
six hundred persons. The procession was cheered 
in its progress by thousands of spectators— through 
the deep ravine of Olive Mount; up the Sutton 
incline; over the great Sankey viaduct, beneath 
which a great multitude of persons had assembled, 
— carriages filling the narrow lanes, and barges 
crowding the river ; the people below gazing with 
wonder and admiration at the trains which sped 


along the line, far above their heads, at the rate of 
some 24 miles an hour. 

At Parkside, about 17 miles from Liverpool, the 
engines stopped to take in water. Here a deplorable 
accident occurred to one of the illustrious visitors, 
which threw a deep shadow over the subsequent 
proceedings of the day. The "Northumbrian" 
engine, with the carriage containing the Duke of 
Wellington, was drawn up on one line, in order that 
the whole of the trains on the other line might pass 
in review before him and his party. Mr. Huskisson 
had alighted from the carriage, and was standing on 
the opposite road, along which the *' Rocket" was 
observed rapidly coming up. At this moment the 
Duke of Wellington, between whom and Mr. 
Huskisson some coolness had existed, made a sign 
of recognition, and held out his hand. A hurried 
but friendly grasp was given ; and before it was 
loosened there was a general cry from the bystanders 
of "Get in, get in!" Flurried and confused, Mr. 
Huskisson endeavoured to get round the open door 
01 the carriage, which projected over the opposite 
rail ; but in so doing he was struck down by the 
" Rocket," and falling with his leg doubled across 
the rail, the limb was instantly crushed. His first 
words, on being raised, were, "I have met my 
death," which unhappily proved true, for he expired 
that same evening in the parsonage of Eccles. It 
was cited at the time as a remarkable fact, that the 
" Northumbrian " engine, driven by George Stephen- 
son himself, conveyed the wounded body of the 
unfortunate gentleman a distance of about 15 miles 
in 25 minutes, or at the rate of 36 miles an hour. 
This incredible speed burst upon the world with 
the effect of a new and unlooked-for phenomenon. 


The accident threw a gloom over the rest of the 
day's proceedings. The Duke of Wellington and 
Sir Robert Peel expressed a wish that the proces- 
sion should return to Liverpool. It was, however, 
represented to them that a vast concourse of people 
had assembled at Manchester to witness the arrival 
of the trains; that report would exaggerate the 
mischief, if they did not complete the journey ; and 
that a false panic on that day might seriously affect 
future railway travelling and the value of the Com- 
pany's property. The party consented accordingly* 
to proceed to Manchester, but on the understanding 
that they should return as soon as possible, and 
refrain from further festivity. 

As the trains approached Manchester, crowds of 
people were found covering the banks, the slopes 
of the cuttings, and even the railway itself The 
multitude, become impatient and excited by the 
rumours which reached them, had outflanked the 
military, and all order was at an end The people 
clambered about the carriages, holding on by the 
door-handles, and many were tumbled over; but, 
happily, no fatal accident occurred. At the Man- 
chester station, the political element began to display 
itself; placards about " Peterloo,"&c., were exhibited, 
and brickbats were thrown at the carriage containing 
the Duke. On the carriages coming to a stand in 
the Manchester station the Duke did not descend, 
but remained seated, shaking hands with the women 
and children who were pushed forward by the crowd. 
Shortly after, the trains returned to Liverpool, which 
they reached, after considerable interruptions, in the 
dark, at a late hour. 

On the following morning the railway was opened 
for public traffic. The first train of 140 passengers 


was booked and sent on to Manchester, reaching it 
in the allotted period of two hours ; and from that 
time the traffic has regularly proceeded from day to 
day until now. 

It is scarcely necessary that we should speak at 
any length of the commercial results of the Liverpool 
and Manchester Railway. Suffice it to say that its 
success was complete and decisive. The anticipations 
of its projectors were, however, in many respects 
at fault. They had based their calculations almost 
entirely on the heavy merchandise traffic — such as 
coal, cotton, and timber, — relying little upon passen- 
gers ; whereas the receipts derived from the con- 
veyance of passengers far exceeded those derived 
from merchandise of all kinds, which for a time 
continued a subordinate branch of the traffic. 

For some time after the public opening of the 
line, Mr. Stephenson's ingenuity continued to be 
employed in devising improved methods for securing 
the safety and comfort of the travelling public. Few 
are aware of the thousand minute details which have 
to be arranged — the forethought and contrivance 
that have to be exercised — to enable the traveller by 
railway to accomplish his journey in safety. After 
the difficulties of constructing a level road over 
bogs, across valleys, and through deep cuttings, 
have been overcome, the maintenance of the way 
has to be provided for with continuous care. Every 
rail with its fastenings must be complete, to prevent 
risk of accident ; and the road must be kept regularly 
ballasted up to the level, to diminish the jolting of 
vehicles passing over it at high speeds. Then the 
stations must be protected by signals observable 
from such a distance as to enable the train to be 
stopped in event of an obstacle, such as a stopping 


or shunting train being in the way. For some years 
the signals employed on the Liverpool railway were 
entirely given by men with flags of different colours 
stationed along the line ; there were no fixed signals, 
nor electric telegraphs ; but the traffic was neverthe- 
less worked quite as safely as under the more 
elaborate and complicated system of telegraphing 
which has since been established. 

From an early period it became obvious that the 
iron road as originally laid down was far too weak 
for the heavy traffic which it had to carry. The 
line was at first laid with fish-bellied rails weighing 
thirty-five pounds to the yard, calculated only for 
horse-traffic, or, at most, for engines like the 
" Rocket," of very light weight. But as the power 
and the weight of the locomotives were increased, 
it was found that such rails were quite insufficient 
for the safe conduct of the traffic, and it therefore 
became necessary to re-lay the road with heavier 
and stronger rails at considerably increased expense. 

The details of the carrying stock had in like 
manner to be settled by experience. Everything 
had, as it were, to be begun from the beginning. 
The coal-waggon, it is true, served in some degree 
as a model for the railway-truck; but the railway 
passenger-carriage was an entirely novel structure. 
It had to be mounted upon strong framing, of a 
peculiar kind, supported on springs to prevent 
jolting. Then there was the necessity for contriving 
some method of preventing hard bumping of the 
carriage-ends when the train was pulled up; and 
hence the contrivance of buffer-springs and spring 
frames. For the purpose of stopping the train, 
brakes on an improved plan were also contrived, 
with new modes of lubricating the carriage-axles, 


on which the wheels revolved at an unusually high 
velocity. In all these arrangements, Mr. Stephen- 
son's inventiveness was kept constantly on the 
stretch, and though many improvements in detail have 
been effected since his time, the foundations were 
then laid by him of the present system of conduct- 
ing railway traffic. As an illustration of the inventive 
ingenuity which he displayed in providing for the 
working of the Liverpool line, we may mention 
his contrivance of the Self-acting Brake. He early 
entertained the idea that the momentum of the 
running train might itself be made available for the 
purpose of checking its speed. He proposed to fit 
each carriage with a brake which should be called 
into action immediately on the locomotive at the 
head of the train being pulled up. The impetus 
of the carriages carrying them forward, the buffer- 
springs would be driven home and, at the same 
time, by a simple arrangement of the mechanism, 
the brakes would be called into simultaneous action ; 
thus the wheels would be brought into a state of 
sledge, and the train speedily stopped. This plan 
was adopted by Mr. Stephenson before he left the 
Liverpool and Manchester Railway, though it was 
afterwards discontinued ; but it is a remarkable fact, 
that this identical plan, with the addition of a centri- 
fugal apparatus, has quite recently been revived by 
M. Gu^rin, a French engineer, and extensively em- 
ployed on foreign railways, as the best method of 
stopping railway trains in the most efficient manner 
and in the shortest time. 

Finally, Mr. Stephenson had to attend to the 
improvement of the power and speed of the loco- 
motive — always the grand object of his stud}^— with 
a view to economy as well as regularity of working, 
v. T 


In the "Planet" engine, delivered upon the line 
immediately subsequent to the public opening, all 
the improvements which had up to that time been 
contrived by him and his son were introduced in 
combination— the blast-pipe, the tubular boiler, 
horizontal cylinders inside the smoke-box, the 
cranked axle, and the fire-box firmly fixed to the 
boiler. The first load of goods conveyed frort 
Liverpool to Manchester by the " Planet " was 80 
tons in weight, and the engine performed the 
journey against a strong head wind in 2J hours. 
On another occasion, the same engine brought up 
a cargo of voters from Manchester to Liverpool, 
during a contested election, within a space of sixty 
minutes ! The ** Samson," delivered in the following 
year, exhibited still further improvements, the most 
important of which was that of coupling the fore 
and hind wheels of the engine. By this means, 
the adhesion of the wheels on the rails was more 
effectually secured, and thus the full hauling power 
of the locomotive was made available. The " Sam- 
son," shortly after it was placed upon the line, 
dragged after it a train of waggons weighing 150 
tons at a speed of about 20 miles an hour ; the con- 
sumption of coke being reduced to only about a 
third of a pound per ton per mile. 

The success of the Liverpool and Manchester 
experiment naturally excited great interest. People 
flocked to Lancashire from all quarters to see the 
steam-coach running upon a railway at three times 
the speed of a mailcoach, and to enjoy the excite- 
ment of actually travelling in the wake of an engine 
at that incredible velocity. The travellers returned to 
their respective districts full of the wonders of the 
locomotive, considering it to be the greatest marvel 


of the age. Railways are familiar enough objects 
now, and our children who grow up in their midst 
may think little of them ; but thirty years since it 
was an event in one's life to see a locomotive, and to 
travel for the first time upon a public railroad. 

The practicability of railway locomotion being 
now proved, and its great social and commercial 
advantages ascertained, the general extension of the 
system was merely a question of time, money, and 
labour. Although the legislature took no initiative 
step in the direction of railway extension, the public 
spirit and enterprise of the country did not fail it 
at this juncture. The English people, though they 
may be defective in their capacity for organization, 
are strong in individualism; and not improbably 
their admirable qualities in the latter respect detract 
from their efficiency in the former. Thus, in all 
times, their greatest enterprises have not been 
planned by officialism and carried out upon any 
regular system, but have sprung, like their constitu- 
tion, their laws, and their entire industrial arrange- 
ments, from the force of circumstances and the 
individual energies of the people. 

The mode of action in the case of railway exten- 
sion was characteristic and national. The execution 
of the new lines was undertaken entirely by joint- 
stock associations of proprietors, after the manner 
of the Stockton and Darlington, and Liverpool and 
Manchester companies. These associations are 
conformable to our national habits, and fit well into 
our system of laws. They combine the power of 
vast resources with individual watchfulness and 
motives of self-interest ; and by their means 
gigantic undertakings, which otherwise would be 
impossible to any but kings and emperors with 

T 2 

276 NEW LINES [chap XII 

great national resources at command, were carried 
out by the co-operation of private persons. And 
the results of this combination of means and of 
enterprise have been truly marvellous. Within the 
life of the present generation, the private citizens 
of England engaged in railway extension have, in 
the face of Government obstructions, and without 
taking a penny from the public purse, executed 
a system of communications involving works of the 
most gigantic kind, which, in their total mass, their 
cost, and their public utility, far exceed the most 
famous national undertakings of any age or country. 

Mr. Stephenson was, of course, actively engaged 
in the construction of the numerous railways now 
projected by the joint-stock companies. The desire 
for railway extension principally pervaded the 
manufacturing districts, especially after the success- 
ful opening of the Liverpool and Manchester linp. 
The commercial classes of the larger towns soon 
became eager for a participation in the good which 
they had so recently derided. Railway projects 
were set on foot in great numbers, and Manchester 
became a centre from which main lines and branches 
were started in all directions. The interest, how- 
ever, which attaches to these later schemes is of a 
much less absorbing kind than that which belongs 
to the earlier history of the railway and the steps 
by which it was mainly established. We naturally 
sympathise more keenly with the early struggles 
of a great principle, its trials and its difficulties, 
than with its after stages of success ; and, however 
gratified and astonished we may be at its conse- 
quences, the interest is in a great measure gone 
when its triumph has become a matter of certainty. 

The commercial results of the Liverpool and 


Manchester line were so satisfactory, and indeed so 
greatly exceeded the expectations of its projectors, 
that many of the abandoned projects of the specula- 
tive year 1825 were forthwith revived. An abundant 
crop of engineers sprang up, ready to execute rail- 
ways of any extent. Now that the Liverpool and 
Manchester line had been made, and the practica- 
bility of working it by locomotive power had been 
proved, it was as easy for engineers to make rail- 
ways and to work them, as it was for navigators to 
find America after Columbus had made the first 
voyage. Mr. Francis Giles attached himself to the 
Newcastle and Carlisle and London and South- 
ampton projects. Mr. Brunei appeared as engineer 
of the line projected between London and Bristol ; 
and Mr. Braithwaite, the builder of the " Novelty " 
engine, acted in the same capacity for a railway from 
London to Colchester. 

The first lines constructed subsequent to the 
opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, 
were mostly in connection with it, and principally 
in the county of Lancaster. Thus a branch was 
formed from Bolton to Leigh, and another from 
Leigh to Kenyon, where it formed a junction with 
the main line between Liverpool and Manchester. 
Branches to Wigan on the north, and to Runcorn 
Gap and Warrington on the south of the same line, 
were also formed. A continuation of the latter, as 
far south as Birmingham, was shortly after projected 
under the name of the Grand Junction Railway. 

The last mentioned line was projected as early 
as the year 1824, when the Liverpool and Man- 
chester scheme was under discussion, and Mr. 
Stephenson then published a report on the subject. 
The plans were deposited) but the bill was thrown 


out through the opposition of the landowners and 
canal proprietors. When engaged in making the 
survey, Stephenson called upon some of the land- 
owners in the neighbourhood of Nantwich to obtain 
their assent, and was greatly disgusted to learn that 
the agents of the canal companies had been before 
him, and described the locomotive to the farmers 
as a most frightful machine, emitting a breath as 
poisonous as the fabled dragon of old ; and telling 
them that if a bird flew over the district where one 
of these engines passed, it would inevitably drop 
down dead! The application for the bill was re- 
newed in 1826, and again failed; and at length it 
was determined to wait the issue of the Liverpool 
and Manchester experiment The act was eventu- 
ally obtained in 1833. 

When it was proposed to extend the advantages 
of railways to the population of the midland and 
southern counties of England, an immense amount 
of alarm was created in the minds of the country 
gentlemen. They did not relish the idea of private 
individuals, principally resident in the manufacturing 
districts, invading their domains ; and they every- 
where rose up in arms against the "new-fangled 
roads." ' Colonel Sibthorpe openly declared his 
hatred of the "infernal railroads," and said that he 
** would rather meet a highwayman, or see a burglar 
on his premises, than an engineer ! " The impression 
which prevailed in the rural districts was, that fox- 
covers and game-preserves would be seriously 
prejudiced by the formation of railroads ; that 
agricultural communications would be destroyed, 
land thrown out of cultivation, landowners and 
farmers reduced to beggary, the poor-rates in- 
creased through the number of persons thrown out 


of employment by the railways, — and all this in 
order that Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham 
shopkeepers and manufacturers might establish a 
monstrous monopoly in railway traffic. 

The inhabitants of even some of the large towns 
were thrown into a state of consternation by the 
proposal to provide them with the accommodation 
of a railway. The line from London to Birmingham 
would naturally have passed closed to the handsome 
town of Northampton, and was so projected; but 
the inhabitants of the shire, urged on by the local 
press, and excited by men of influence and education, 
opposed the project, and succeeded in forcing the 
promoters, in their survey of the line, to pass the 
town at a distance. When the first railway through 
Kent was projected, the line was laid out so as to 
pass by Maidstone, the county town. But it had 
not a single supporter amongst the townspeople, 
whilst the landowners for many miles round com- 
bined to oppose it. In like manner, the line projected 
from London to Bristol was strongly denounced by 
the inhabitants of the intermediate districts; and 
when the first bill was thrown out, Eton assembled 
under the presidency of the Marquis of Chandos to 
congratulate the country upon its defeat. 

During the time that the works of the Liverpool 
and Manchester line were in progress, our engineer 
was consulted respecting a short railway proposed 
to be formed between Leicester and Swannington, 
for the purpose of opening up a communication 
between the town of Leicester and the coal-fields in 
the western part of the county. The projector of 
this undertaking had some difficulty in getting the 
requisite capital subscribed for, the Leicester towns- 
people who had money being for the most part 


interested in canals. George Stephenson was in- 
vited to come upon the ground and survey the line. 
He did so, and then the projector told him of the 
difficulty he had in finding subscribers to the 
concern. ** Give me a sheet," said Stephenson, 
*'and I will raise the money for you in Liverpool." 

The engineer was as 
good as his word, and in 
a short time the sheet was 
returned with the sub- 
scription complete. Mr. 
Stephenson was then 
asked to undertake the 
office of engineer for the 
line, but his answer was 

to atten<' 
to pro- 
Was there 
any per- 
son he 
could re- 
c o m - 
m e n d ? 
said he, 

"I think m^^ son Robert is competent to under- 
take the thing." Would Mr. Stephenson be 
answerable for him? **0h, yes, certainly," and 
Robert Stephenson, at twenty-seven years of age, 
was installed engineer of the line accordingly. 

The requisite Parliamentary powers having been 
obtained, Robert Stephenson proceeded with the 

Map of I Leicester and Swannington Railway. 


construction of the railway, about 16 miles in length, 
towards the end of 1830. The works were com- 
paratively easy, excepting at the Leicester end, where 
the young engineer encountered his first stiff bit of 
tunnelling. The line passed underground for if mile 
and 500 yards of its course lay in loose dry running 
sand. The presence of this material rendered 
it necessary for the engineer first to construct 
a wooden tunnel to support the soil while the brick- 
work was being executed. This proved sufficient, 
and the whole was brought to a successful termi- 
nation within a reasonable time. While the works 
were in progress, Robert kept up a regular corre- 
spondence with his father at Liverpool, consulting 
him on all points in which his greater experience 
was likely to be of service. Like his father, Robert 
was very observant, and always ready to seize 
opportunity by the forelock. It happened that the 
estate of Snibston, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, was 
advertised for sale; and the young engineers ex- 
perience as a coal-viewer and practical geologist 
suggested to his mind that coal was most probably to 
be found underneath. He communicated his views 
to his father on the subject. The estate lay in the 
immediate neighbourhood of the railway ; and if the 
conjecture proved correct, the finding of coal would 
necessarily greatly enhance its value. He accord- 
ingly requested his father to come over to Snib- 
ston and look at the property, which he did ; and 
after a careful inspection of the ground, he arrived 
at the same conclusion as his son. 

The large manufacturing town of Leicester, 
about fourteen miles distant, had up to that time 
been exclusively supplied with coal brought by 
canal from Derbyshire; and Mr. Stephenson saw 


that the railway under construction from Swanning- 
ton to Leicester would furnish him with a ready 
market for any coals which he might find at Snibston. 
Having induced two of his Liverpool friends to join 
him in the venture, the Snibston estate was purchased 
in 183 1 : and shortly after, Stephenson removed his 
home from Liverpool to Alton Grange, for the purpose 
of superintending the sinking of the pit. He travelled 
thither by gig with his wife, — his favourite horse 
" Bobby " performing the journey by easy stages. 

Sinking operations were immediately begun, aind 
proceeded satisfactorily until the old enemy, water, 
burst in upon the workmen, and threatened to drown 
them out. But by means of efficient pumping- 
engines, and the skilful casing of the shaft with 
segments of cast-iron — a process called ''tubbing,"* 
which Mr. Stephenson was the first to adopt in the 
Midland Counties — it was eventually made water- 
tight, and the sinking proceeded. When a depth of 
166 feet had been reached, a still more formidable 
difficulty presented itself— one which had baffled 
former sinkers in the neighbourhood, and deterred 
them from further operations. This was a remark- 
able bed of whinstone or greenstone, which had 
originally been poured out as a sheet of burning 
lava over the denuded surface of the coal measures ; 
indeed it was afterwards found that it had turned 
to cinders one part of the seam of coal with which 
it had come in contact The appearance of this bed 

* Tubbing is now adopted in many cases as a substitute for 
brick- walling. The tubbing consists of short portions of cast-iron 
cylinder fixed in segments. Each weighs about 4} cwt., is about ^ 
or 4 feet long, and about i of an inch thick. These pieces are fitted 
closely together, length under length, and form an impermeable 
wall along the side of the pit. 


of solid rock was so unusual a circumstance in coal 
mining, that some experienced sinkers urged 
Stephenson to proceed no further, believing the 
occurrence of the dyke at that point to be altogether 
fatal to his enterprise. But with his faith still firm 
in the existence of coal underneath, he fell back on 
his old motto of ** Persevere." He determined to 
go on boring ; and down through the solid rock he 
went until, twenty-two feet lower, he came upon 
the coal measures. In the mean time, however, lest 
the boring at that point should prove unsuccessful, 
he had commenced sinking another pair of shafts 
about a quarter of a mile west of the " fault " ; and 
after about nine months* labour he reached the 
principal seam, called the "main coal." 

The works were then opened out on a large scale, 
and Mr. Stephenson had the pleasure and good 
fortune to send the first train of main coal to 
Leicester by railway. The price was immediately re- 
duced to about 85. a ton, effecting a pecuniary saving 
to the inhabitants of the town of about 40,000/. per 
annum, or equivalent to the whole amount then 
collected in Government taxes and local rates, 
besides giving an impetus to the manufacturing 
prosperity of the place, which has continued down 
to the present day. The correct principles upon 
which the mining operations at Snibston were 
conducted offered a salutary example to the neigh- 
bouring colliery owners. The numerous improve- 
ments there introduced were freely exhibited to all, 
and they were afterwards reproduced in many forms 
all over the Midland Counties, greatly to the ad- 
vantage of the mining interest. 

Nor was Mr. Stephenson less attentive to the 
comfort and well-being of those immediately 

284 GEORGE Stephenson's workpeople [chap xii 

dependent upon him — the workpeople of the 
Snibston coUiery and their families. Unlike many 
of those large employers who have " sprung from the 
ranks," he was one of the kindest and most indulgent 
of masters. He would have a fair day's work for 
a fair day's wages; but he never forgot that the 
employer had his duties as well as his rights. First 
of all, he attended to the proper home accommodation 
of his workpeople. He erected a village of comfort- 
able cottages, each provided with a snug little 
garden. He was also instrumental in erecting a 
church adjacent to the works, as well as Church 
schools for the education of the colliers* children ; 
and with that broad catholicity of sentiment which 
distinguished him, he further provided a chapel and 
a school-house for the use of the Dissenting portion 
of the colliers and their families — an example of 
benevolent liberality which was not without a salu- 
tary influence upon the neighbouring employers. 

Stephenson's House at Alton Gtange. 




Of the numerous extensive projects which followed 
close upon the completion of the Liverpool and 
Manchester line, and the Locomotive triumph at 
Rainhill, that of a railway between London and 
Birmingham was the most important The scheme 
originated at the latter place in 1830. Two com- 
mittees were formed, and two plans were proposed. 
One was of a line to London by way of Oxford, and 
the other by way of Coventry. The simple object 
of the promoters of both schemes being to secure 
the advantages of railway communication with the 
metropolis, they wisely determined to combine their 
strength to secure it. They then resolved to call 
George Stephenson to their aid, and requested him 
to advise them as to the two schemes which were 
before them. After a careful examination of the 
country, Mr. Stephenson reported in favour of the 
Coventry route, when the Lancashire gentlemen, who 
were the principal subscribers to the project, having 
every confidence in his judgment, supported his 
decision, and the line recommended by him was 
adopted accordingly. 

At the meeting of the promoters held at Birming- 
ham to determine on the appointment of the engineer 


for the railway, there was a strong party in favour 
of associating with Mr. Stephenson a gentleman 
with whom he had been brought into serious 
collision in the course of the Liverpool and Man- 
chester undertaking. When the offer was made to 
him that he should be joint engineer with the other, 
he requested leave to retire and consider the pro- 
posal with his son. The father was in favour of 
accepting it. His struggle heretofore had been so 
hard that he could not bear the idea of missing so 
promising an opportunity of professional advance- 
ment. But the son, foreseeing the jealousies and 
heartburnings which the joint engineership would 
most probably create, recommended his father 
to decline the connection. George adopted the 
suggestion, and returning to the Committee, he 
announced to them his decision ; on which the 
promoters decided to appoint him the engineer of 
the undertaking in conjunction with his son. 

This line, like the Liverpool and Manchester, was 
very strongly opposed, especially by the landowners. 
Numerous pamphlets were published, calling on the 
public to ** beware of the bubbles," and holding up 
the promoters of railways to ridicule. They were 
compared to St. John Long and similar quacks, and 
pronounced fitter for Bedlam than to be left at large. 
The canal proprietors, landowners, and road trustees, 
made common cause against them. The failure of 
railways was confidently predicted — indeed, it was 
elaborately attempted to be proved that they had 
failed ; and it was industriously spread abroad that 
the locomotive engines, having been found useless 
and highly dangerous on the Liverpool and Man- 
chester line, were immediately to be abandoned in 
favour of horses — a rumour which the directors of 


the Company thought it necessary publicly to 

Public meetings were held in all the counties 
through which the line would pass between London 
and Birmingham, at which the project was de- 
nounced, and strong resolutions against it were 
passed. The attempt was made to conciliate the 
landlords by explanations, but all such efforts proved 
futile, the owners of nearly seven-eighths of the 
land being returned as dissentients. " I remember," 
said Robert Stephenson, describing the opposition, 
**that we called one day on Sir Astley Cooper, 
the eminent surgeon, in the hope of overcoming 
his aversion to the railway. He was one of our 
most inveterate and influential opponents. His 
country house at Berkhampstead was situated near 
the intended line, which passed through part of 
his property. We found a courtly, fine-looking 
old gentleman, of very stately manners, who received 
us kindly and heard all we had to say in favour 
of the project. But he was quite inflexible in his 
opposition to it. No deviation or improvement 
that we could suggest had any effect in conciliating- 
him. He was opposed to railways generally, and 
to this in particular. 'Your scheme,* said he, *is 
preposterous in the extreme. It is of so extravagant 
a character, as to be positively absurd. Then look 
at the recklessness of your proceedings ! You are 
proposing to cut up our estates in all directions 
for the purpose of making an unnecessary road. 
Do you think for one moment of the destruction 
of property involved by it? Why, gentlemen, if 
this sort of thing be permitted to go on, you will 
in a very few years destroy the noblesse ! ' We left 
the honourable baronet without having produced 


the slightest effect upon him, excepting perhaps, 
it might be, increased exasperation against our 
scheme. I could not help observing to my com- 
panions as we left the house, * Well, it is really 
provoking to find one who has been made a " Sir " 
for cutting that wen out of George the Fourth's 
neck, charging us with contemplating the destruc- 
tion of the noblesse^ because we propose to confer 
upon him the benefits of a railroad/ " 

Such being the opposition of the owners of land, 
it was with the greatest difficulty that an accurate 
survey of the line could be made. At one point 
the vigilance of the landowners and their servants 
was such, that the surveyors were effectually 
prevented taking the levels by the light of day ; 
and it was only at length accomplished at night 
by means of dark lanterns. There was one clergy- 
man who made such alarming demonstrations 
of his opposition, that the extraordinary expedient 
was resorted to of surveying his property during 
the time he was engaged in the pulpit This was 
managed by having a strong force of surveyors 
in readiness to commence their operations, who 
entered the clergyman's grounds on one side the 
moment they saw him fairly off them on the other. 
By a well-organised and systematic arrangement 
each man concluded his allotted task just as the 
reverend gentleman concluded his sermon ; so that, 
before he left the church, the deed was done, and 
the sinners had all decamped. Similar opposition 
was offered at many other points, but ineffectually. 
The laborious application of Robert Stephenson 
was such, that in examining the country to ascertain 
the best line, he walked the whole distance between 
London and Birmingham upwards of twenty times. 


When the bill went before the Committee of the 
Commons in 1832, a formidable array of evidence 
was produced. All the railway experience of the 
day was brought to bear in support of the measure, 
and all that interested opposition could do was set 
in motion against it. The necessity for an improved 
mode of communication between London and Bir- 
mingham was clearly demonstrated; and the engi- 
neering evidence was regarded as quite satisfactory. 
Not a single fact was proved against the utility 
of the measure, and the bill passed the Committee, 
and afterwards the third reading in the Commons, 
by large majorities. 

It was then sent to the Lords, and went into 
Committee, when a similar mass of testimony was 
again gone through. But it had been evident, from 
the opening of the proceedings, that the fate of the 
bill had been determined before even a word of the 
evidence had been heard. At that time the commit- 
tees were open to all peers ; and the promoters of the 
bill found, to their dismay, many of the lords who 
were avowed opponents of the measure as land- 
owners, sitting as judges to decide its fate. Their 
principal object seemed to be, to bring the pro- 
ceedings to a termination as quickly as possible. 
An attempt at negociation was indeed made in the 
course of the proceedings in committee, but failed, 
and the bill was thrown out. 

As the result had been foreseen, measures were 
taken to neutralise the effect of this decision as re- 
garded future operations. Not less than 32,000/. had 
been expended in preliminary and parliamentary ex- 
penses up to this stage; but the promoters determined 
not to look back and forthwith made arrangements 
for prosecuting the bill in the next session. Strange 
V. u 


to say, the bill then passed both Houses silently 
and almost without opposition. The mystery was 
afterwards solved by the appearance of a circular 
issued by the directors of the company, in which 
it was stated, that they had opened " negociations" 
with the most influential of their opponents ; that 
"these measures had been successful to a greater 
extent than they had ventured to anticipate ; and the 
most active and formidable had been conciliated." 
An instructive commentary on the mode by which 
these noble lords and influential landed proprietors 
had been " conciliated," was the simple fact that 
the estimate for land was nearly trebled, and that 
the owners were paid about 750,000/. for what had 
been originally estimated at 250,000/. 

The landowners having thus been "conciliated," 
the promoters of the measure were permitted to 
proceed with the formation of their great highway. 
Robert Stephenson was, with the sanction of his 
father, appointed sole engineer; and steps were 
at once taken by him to make the working survey, 
to prepare the working drawings, and arrange for 
the construction of the railway. Eighty miles of 
the road were shortly under contract ; having been 
let within the estimates ; and the works were in 
satisfactory progress by the beginning of 1834. 

The difficulties encountered in their construction 
were very great ; the most formidable of them 
originating in the character of the works themselves. 
Extensive tunnels had to be driven through unknown 
strata, and miles of underground excavation had to be 
carried out in order to form a level road from valley 
to valley, under the intervening ridges. This kind 
of work was the newest of all to the contractors of 
that. day. Robert Stephenson's experience in the 



collieries of the North rendered 
him well fitted to grapple with 
such difficulties ; yet, even he, 
with all his practical knowledge, 
could scarcely have foreseen the 
serious obstacles which he was 
called upon to encounter in exe- 
cuting the formidable cuttings, 
embankments, and tunnels of the 
London and Birmingham Rail- 
way. It would be an uninterest- 
ing as it would be a fruitless task, 
to attempt to describe the works 
in detail ; but a general outline of 
their extraordinary character and 
extent may not be out of place. 

The length of railway to be 
constructed between London and 
Birmingham was II 2i miles. The 
line crossed a series of low-lying 
districts separated from each 
other by considerable ridges of 
hills ; and it was the object of 
the engineer to cross the valleys 
at as high, and the hills at as low, 
elevations as possible. The high 
ground was therefore cut down 
and the ''stuff" led into embank- 
ments, in some places of great 
height and extent, so as to form 
a road upon as level a plane as 
was considered practicable for 
the working of the locomotive 
engine. In some places, the high 
grounds were passed in open 










U 2 


cuttings, whilst in others it was necessary to bore 
through them in tunnels with deep cuttings at 
each end. 

The most formidable excavations on the line are 
those at Tring, Denbigh Hall, and Blisworth. The 
Tring cutting is an immense chasm across the great 
chalk ridge of Ivinghoe. It is 2J miles long, and 
for i of a mile is 57 feet deep. A million and a half 
cubic yards of chalk and earth were taken out of 
this cutting by means of horse-runs and deposited 
in spoil banks ; besides the immense quantity run 
into the embankment north of the cutting, forming 
a solid mound nearly 6 miles long and about 30 
feet high. Passing over the Denbigh Hall cutting, 
and the Wolverton embankment of ij mile in 
length across the valley of the Ouse, we come to 
the excavation at Blisworth, a brief description of 
which will give the reader an idea of one of the 
most difficult kinds of railway work. 

The Blisworth Cutting is one of the longest and 
deepest grooves cut in the solid earth. It is ij mile 
long, in some places 65 feet deep, passing through 
earth, stiff clay, and hard rock. Not less than a 
million cubic yards of these materials were dug, 
quarried, and blasted out of it. One-third of the 
cutting was stone, and beneath the stone lay a thick 
bed of clay, under which were found beds of loose 
shale so full of water that almost constant pumping 
was necessary at many points to enable the works 
to proceed. For a year and a half the contractor 
went on fruitlessly contending with these diflficulties, 
and at length he was compelled to abandon the 
adventure. The engineer then took the works in 
hand for the Company, and they were vigorously 
proceeded with. Steam-engines were set to work 


to pump out the water ; two locomotives were put 
on, one at each end of the cutting, to drag away the 
excavated rock and clay ; and 800 men and boys 
were employed along the work, in digging, wheeling, 
and blasting, besides a large number of horses. 
Some idea of the extent of the blasting operations 
may be formed from the fact that 25 barrels of gun- 

Blisworth Cutting. 

powder were used weekly; the total quantity 
exploded in forming this one cutting being about 
3000 barrels. Considerable difficulty was ex- 
perienced in supporting the bed of rock cut through 
which overlaid the clay and shale along each side 
ot the cutting. It was found necessary to hold it 
up by strong retaining walls, to prevent the clay 


bed from bulging out, and these walls were further 
supported by a strong invert, — that is, an arch 
placed in an inverted position under the road, — 
thus binding together the walls on both sides. 
Behind the retaining walls, a drift or horizontal 
drain was provided to enable the water to run off, 
and occasional openings were left in the walls 
themselves for the same purpose. The work was 
at length brought to a successful completion, but 
the extraordinary difficulties encountered in forming 
the cutting had the effect of greatly increasing the 
cost of this portion of the railway. 

The tunnels on the line are eight in number, 
their total length being 7336 yards. The first high 
ground encountered was Primrose Hill, where the 
stiff London clay was passed through for a distance 
of about II 64 yards. The clay was close, compact, 
and dry, more difficult to work than stone itself. 
It was entirely free from water ; but the absorbing 
properties of the clay were such that when exposed 
to the air it swelled out rapidly. Hence an unusual 
thickness of brick lining was found necessary ; and 
the engineer afterwards informed the author that for 
some time he entertained an apprehension lest the 
pressure should force in the brickwork altogether. 
It was so great that it made the face of the bricks 
to fly off* in minute chips which covered his clothes 
whilst he was inspecting the work. The materials 
used in the building were, however, of excellent 
quality; and the tunnel was happily brought to 
a completion without any accident. 

At Watford the chalk ridge was penetrated by 
a tunnel about 1800 yards long; and at Northchurch, 
Lindslade, and Stowe Hill, there were other tunnels 
of minor extent. But the chief difficulty of the 




undertaking was the execution of that under the 
Kilsby ridge. Though not the largest, this is in 
many respects one of the most interesting works 
of the kind in England. It is about 2400 yards long, 
and runs at an average depth of about 160 feet 
below the surface. The ridge under which it 
extends is of considerable extent, the famous battle 

The Shafts over KiUby Tunnel. 

of Naseby having been fought upon one of the 
spurs of the same high ground about seven miles to 
the eastward. 

Previous to the letting of the contract, the 
character of the underground soil was examined 
by trial-shafts. The tests indicated that it consisted 
of shale of the lower oolite, and the works were let 


accordingly. But they had scarcely been com- 
menced when it was discovered that, at an interval 
between the two trial-shafts which had been sunk, 
about 200 yards from the south end of the tunnel, 
there existed an extensive quicksand under a bed 
of clay 40 feet thick, which the borings had escaped 
in the most singular manner. At the bottom of 
one of these shafts the excavation and building of 
the tunnel were proceeding, when the roof at one 
part suddenly gave way, a deluge of water burst in, 
and the party of workmen with the utmost difficulty 
escaped with their lives. They were only saved by 
means of a raft, on which they were towed by one 
of the engineers swimming with the rope in his 
mouth to the lower end of the shaft, out of which 
they were safely lifted to the daylight. The works 
were of course at that point immediately stopped. 
The contractor, who had undertaken the construc- 
tion of the tunnel, was so overwhelmed by the 
calamity, that, though he was relieved by the 
Company from his engagement, he took to his bed 
and shortly after died. Pumping-engines were then 
erected for the purpose of draining off the water, 
but for a long time it prevailed, and sometimes even 
rose in the shaft. The question then presented 
itself, whether in the face of so formidable a diffi- 
culty, the works should be proceeded with or 
abandoned. Robert Stephenson sent over to 
Alton Grange for his father, and the two took 
serious counsel together. George was in favour of 
pumping out the water from the top by powerful 
engines erected over each shaft, until the water 
was mastered. Robert concurred in that view, 
and although other engineers pronounced strongly 
against the practicability of the scheme and advised 


its abandonment, the directors authorised him to 
proceed ; and powerful steam-engines were ordered 
to be constructed and delivered without loss of 

In the mean time, Robert suggested to his father 
the expediency of running a drift along the heading 
from the south end of the tunnel, with the view of 
draining off the water in that way. George said he 
thought it would scarcely answer, but that it was 
worth a trial, at all events until the pumping- 
engines were got ready. Robert accordingly gave 
orders for the drift to be proceeded with. The 
excavators were immediately set to work ; and they 
were very soon close upon the sand bed. One day, 
when the engineer, his assistants, and the workmen 
were clustered about the open entrance of the drift- 
way, they heard a sudden roar as of distant thunder. 
It was hoped that the water had burst in — for all 
the workmen were out of the drift — and that the 
sand bed would now drain itself off in a natural 
way. Instead of which, very little water made its 
appearance ; and on examining the inner end of the 
• drift, it was found that the loud noise had been 
caused by the sudden discharge into it of an im- 
mense mass of sand, which had completely choked 
up the passage, and prevented the water from 
flowing away. 

The engineer now found that there was nothing 
for it but to sink numerous additional shafts over 
the line of the tunnel at the points at which it 
crossed the quicksand, and endeavour to master the 
water by sheer force of engines and pumps. The 
engines erected possessed an aggregate power of 
160 horses ; and they went on pumping for eight suc- 
cessive months, emptying out an almost incredible 



quantity of water. It was found that the water, with 
which the bed of sand extending over many miles 
was charged, was to a certain degree held back by 
the particles of the sand itself, and that it could 
only percolate through at a certain average rate- 
It appeared in its flow to take a slanting direction to 
the suction of the pumps, the angle of inclination 
depending upon the coarseness or fineness of the 
sand, and regulating the time of the flow. Hence 
the distribution of the pumping power at short 
intervals along the line of the tunnel had a much 
greater effect than the concentration of that power 
at any one spot. It soon appeared that the water 
had found its master. Protected by the pumps, 
which cleared a space for the engineering opera- 
tions — carried on in the midst, as it were, of two 
almost perpendicular walls of water and sand on 
either side — the workmen proceeded with the 
building of the tunnel at numerous points. Every 
exertion was used to wall in the dangerous parts 
as quickly as possible ; the excavators and brick- 
layers labouring night and day until the work 
was finished. Even while under the protection 
of the immense pumping power above described, 
it often happened that the bricks were scarcely 
covered with cement ready for the setting, ere they 
were washed quite clean by the streams of water 
which poured from overhead. The men were 
accordingly under the necessity of holding over 
their work large whisks of straw and other 
appliances to protect the bricks and cement at the 
moment of setting. 

The quantity of water pumped out of the sand 
bed during eight months of incessant pumping, 
averaged 2000 gallons per minute, raised from an 


average depth of 120 feet. It is difficult to form 
an adequate idea of the bulk of the water thus 
raised, but it may be stated that if allowed to flow 
for three hours only, it would fill a lake one acre 
square to the depth of one foot, and if allowed to 
flow for one entire day it would fill the lake to over 
eight feet in depth, or sufficient to float vessels of 
100 tons* burthen. The water pumped out of the 
tunnel while the work was in progress would be 
nearly equivalent to the contents of the Thames at 
high water between London and Woolwich. It is 
a curious circumstance, that notwithstanding the 
quantity thus removed, the level of the surface of 
the water in the tunnel was only lowered about 2J 
to 3 inches per week, proving the vast area of the 
quicksand, which probably extended along the 
entire ridge of land under which the railway 

The cost of the line was greatly increased by the 
difficulties encountered at Kilsby. The original 
estimate for the tunnel was only 99,000/. ; but before 
it was finished it had cost more than 100/. per lineal 
yard forward, or a total of nearly 300,000/. The 
expenditure on the other parts of the line also 
greatly exceeded the amount first set down by 
the engineer ; and before the works were finished 
it was more than doubled. The land cost three 
times more than the estimate ; and the claims for 
compensation were enormous. Although the con- 
tracts were let within the estimates, very few of the 
contractors were able to complete them without 
the assistance of the Company, and many became 

The magnitude of the works, which were un- 
precedented in England, was one of the most 


remarkable features in the undertaking. The 
following striking comparison has been made 
between this railway and one of the greatest works 
of ancient times. The Great Pyramid of Egypt 
was, according to Diodorus Siculus, constructed 
by 300,000 — according to Herodotus, by 100,000 — 
men. It required for its execution twenty years, 
and the labour expended upon it has been estimated 
as equivalent to lifting 15,733,000,000 of cubic feet 
of stone one foot high. Whereas, if the labour 
expended in constructing the London and Birming- 
ham Railway be in like manner reduced to one 
common denomination the result is 25,000,000,000 
of cubic feet more than was lifted for the Great 
Pyramid ; and yet the English work was performed 
by about 20,000 men in less than five years. And 
whilst the Egyptian work was executed by a power- 
ful monarch concentrating upon it the labour and 
capital of a great nation, the English railway was 
constructed, in the face of every conceivable 
obstruction and difficulty, by a company of private 
individuals out of their own resources, without the 
aid of Government or the contribution of one 
farthing of public money. 

The labourers who executed this formidable 
work were in many respects a remarkable class. 
The ** railway navvies," as they are called, were 
men drawn by the attraction of good wages from 
all parts of the kingdom ; and they were ready for 
any sort of hard work. Some of the best came 
from the fen districts of Lincoln and Cambridge, 
where they had been trained to execute works 
of excavation and embankment. These old practi- 
tioners formed a nucleus of skilled manipulation 
and aptitude, which rendered them of indispensable 


Utility in the immense undertakings of the period 
Their expertness in all sorts of earthwork, in em- 
banking, boring, and well-sinking — their practical 
knowledge of the nature of soils and rocks, the 
tenacity of clays, and the porosity of certain strati- 
fications—were very great; and, rough-looking 
though they were, many of them were as important 
in their own department as the contractor or the 

During the railway-making period the navvy 
wandered about from one public work to another — 
apparently belonging to no country and having no 
home. He usually wore a white felt hat with the 
brim turned up, a velveteen or jean square-tailed 
coat, a scarlet plush waistcoat with little black 
spots, and a bright-coloured kerchief round his 
herculean neck, when, as often happened, it was not 
left entirely bare. His corduroy breeches were 
retained in position by a leathern strap round the 
waist, and were tied and buttoned at the knee, 
displaying beneath a solid calf and foot encased 
in strong, high-laced boots. Joining together in a 
"butty gang," some ten or twelve of these men 
would take a contract to cut out and remove so 
much " dirt " — as they denominated earth-cutting — 
fixing their price according to the character of the 
** stuff," and the distance to which it had to be 
wheeled and tipped. The contract taken, every 
man put himself on his mettle : if any was found 
skulking, or not putting forth his full working 
power, he was ejected from the gang. Their 
powers of endurance were extraordinary. In times 
of emergency they would work for 12 and even 16 
hours, with only short intervals for meals. The 
quantity of flesh-meat which they consumed was 


something enormous ; but it was to their bones and 
muscles what coke is to the locomotive — the means 
of keeping up the steam. They displayed great 
pluck, and seemed to disregard peril. Indeed, the 
most dangerous sort of labour — such as working 
horse-barrow runs, in which accidents are of con- 
stant occurrence — has always been most in request 
amongst them, the danger seeming to be one of its 
chief recommendations. 

Working, eating, drinking, and sleeping together, 
and daily exposed to the same influences, these 
railway labourers soon presented a distinct and 
well-defined character, strongly marking them from 
the population of the districts in which they 
laboured. Reckless alike of their lives as of their 
earnings, the navvies worked hard and lived hard. 
For their lodging, a hut of turf would content them ; 
and, in their hours of leisure, the meanest public- 
house would serve for their parlour. Unburdened 
as they usually were, by domestic ties, unsoftened 
by family affection, and without much moral or 
religious training, the navvies came to be dis- 
tinguished by a sort of savage manners, which 
contrasted strangely with those of the surrounding 
population. Yet, ignorant and violent though they 
might be, they were usually good-hearted fellows 
in the main — frank and open-handed with their 
comrades, and ready to share their last penny with 
those in distress. Their pay-nights were often 
a saturnalia of riot and disorder, dreaded by the 
inhabitants of the villages along the line of works. 
The irruption of such men into the quiet hamlet 
of Kilsby must, indeed, have produced a very 
startling effect on the recluse inhabitants of the 
placet Robert Stephenson used to tell a story 


of the clergyman of the parish waiting upon the 
foreman of one of the gangs to expostulate with 
him as to the shocking impropriety of his men 
working during Sunday. But the head navvy 
merely hitched up his trousers, and said, "Why, 
Soondays hain't cropt out here yet ! " In short, 
the navvies were little better than heathens, 
and the village of Kilsby was not restored to 
its wonted quiet until the tunnel-works were 
finished, and the engines and scaffoldings removed, 
leaving only the immense masses of debris around 
the line of shafts which extend along the top of 
the tunnel. 

In illustration of the extraordinary working 
energy and powers of endurance of the English 
navvies, we may mention that when railway-making 
extended to France, the English contractors for the 
works took with them gangs of English navvies, 
with the usual plant, which included wheelbarrows. 
These the English navvy was accustomed to run 
out rapidly and continuously, piled so high with 
"stuff" that he could barely see, over the summit 
of his load, the gang-board along which he wheeled 
his barrow. While he thus easily ran out some 
3 or 4 cwt. at a time, the French navvy was con- 
tented with half the weight. Indeed, the French 
navvies on one occasion struck work because of 
the size of the English barrows, and there was 
an emeute on the Rouen Railway, which was only 
quelled by the aid of the military. The consequence 
was that the big barrows were abandoned to the 
English workmen, who earned nearly double the 
wages of the Frenchmen. The manner in which 
they stood to their work was matter of great sur- 
prise and wonderment to the French countrypeople, 


who came crowding round them in their blouses, and, 
after gazing admiringly at their expert handling of 
the pick and mattock, and the immense loads of 
"dirt" which they wheeled out, would exclaim to 
each other, " Mon Dieu^ voila ! voila ces Anglais^ 
comme Us travaillent ! " 



manchester and leeds, and midland railways 

Stephenson's life at alton — visit to Belgium 
general extension of railways and their 


The rapidity with which railways were carried out, 
when the spirit of the country became roused, was 
indeed remarkable. This was doubtless in some 
measure owing to the increased force of the current 
of speculation at the time, but chiefly to the desire 
which the public began to entertain for the general 
extension of the system. It was even proposed 
to fill up the canals and convert them into railways. 
The new roads became the topic of conversation in 
all circles; they were felt to give a new value to 
time ; their vast capabilities for " business " pecu- 
liarly recommended them to the trading classes; 
whilst the friends of "progress" dilated on the 
great benefits they would eventually confer upon 
mankind at large. It began to be seen that Edward 
Pease had not been exaggerating when he said, 
"Let the country but make the railroads, and the 
railroads will make the country ! " They also came 
to be regarded as inviting objects of investment 
to the thrifty, and a safe outlet for the accumulations 
of inert men of capital. Thus new avenues of iron 
road were soon in course of formation, branching in 
V. x 


Railway extension 

[chap XIV 

all directions, so that the country promised in a 
wonderfully short time to become wrapped in one 
vast network of iron. 

In 1836 the Grand Junction Railway was under 
construction between Warrington and Birmingham 
— the northern part by Mr. Stephenson, and the 
southern by Mr. Rastrick. The works on that line 
embraced heavy cuttings, long embankments, and 

The Dutton Viaduct. 

numerous viaducts; but none of these are worthy 
of any special description. Perhaps the finest piece 
of masonry on the railway is the Dutton Viaduct 
across the valley of the Weaver. It consists of 
twenty arches of 60 feet span, springing 16 feet from 
the perpendicular shaft of each pier, and 60 feet in 
height from the crown of the arches to the level of 
the river. The foundations of the piers were built 
on piles driven 20 feet deep. The structure has 


a solid and majestic appearance, and is perhaps the 
finest of George Stephenson*s viaducts. 

The Manchester and Leeds line was in progress 
at the same time — an important railway connecting 
the principal manufacturing towns of Yorkshire and 
Lancashire. An attempt was made to obtain the 
Act as early as 1831 ; but its promoters were defeated 
by the powerful opposition of the landowners aided 
by the canal companies, and the project was not 
revived for several years. The line was somewhat 
circuitous, and the works were heavy ; but on the 
whole the gradients were favourable, and it had the 
advantage of passing through a district full of 
manufacturing towns and villages, teeming hives 
of population, industry, and enterprise. The Act 
authorising the construction of the railway was 
obtained in 1836; it was greatly amended in the 
succeeding year, and the first ground was broken on 
the 18th August, 1837. 

In conducting this project to an issue, the 
engineer had the usual opposition and prejudices 
to encounter. Predictions wer£ confidently made 
in many quarters that the line could never succeed. 
It was declared that the utmost engineering skill 
could not construct a railway through such a country 
of hills and hard rocks ; and it was maintained that, 
even if the railroad were practicable, it could only 
be made at a ruinous cost. 

During the progress of the works, as the Summit 
Tunnel, near Littleborough, was approaching com- 
pletion, the rumour was spread abroad in Manchester 
that the tunnel had fallen in and buried a number 
of the workmen. The last arch had been keyed in, 
and the work was all but finished, when the accident 
occurred which was thus exaggerated by the lying 

X 2 



[chap XIV 

tongue oi rumour. An invert had given way through 
the irregular pressure of the surrounding earth and 
rock at a part of the tunnel where a " fault " had 
occurred in the strata. A party of the directors 
accompanied the engineer to inspect the scene of the 
accident. They entered the tunnel's mouth preceded 
by upwards of fifty navvies, each bearing a torch. 

Entrance to the Summit Tunnel, Liltleborough. 

After walking a distance of about half a mile, the 
inspecting party arrived at the scene of the *' fright- 
ful accident," about which so much alarm had been 
spread. All that was visible was a certain uneven- 
ness of the ground, which had been forced up by the 
invert under it giving way; thus the ballast had 
been loosened, the drain running along the centre 
of the road had been displaced, and small pools 


of water stood about. But the whole of the walls 
and the roof were still as perfect as at any other 
part of the tunnel. The engineer explained the 
cause of the accident ; the blue shale, he said, through 
which the excavation passed at that point, was 
considered so hard and firm, as to render it un- 
necessary to build the invert very strong there. 
But shale is always a deceptive material. Subjected 
to the influence of the atmosphere, it gives but 
a treacherous support. In this case, falling away 
like quicklime, it had left the lip of the invert alone 
to support the pressure of the arch above, and hence 
its springing inwards and upwards. Mr. Stephenson 
directed the attention of the visitors to the complete- 
ness of the arch overhead, where not the slightest 
fracture or yielding could be detected. Speaking 
of the work, in the course of the same day, he said, 
" I will stake my character and my head, if that tunnel 
ever give way, so as to cause danger to any of the 
public passing through it. Taking it as a whole, 
I don't think there is such another piece of work in 
the world. It is the greatest work that has yet been 
done of this kind, and there has been less repairing 
than is usual, — though an engineer might well be 
beaten in his calculations, for he cannot beforehand 
see into those little fractured parts of the earth he 
may meet with." As Stephenson had promised, the 
invert was put in ; and the tunnel was made per- 
fectly safe. 

The construction of this subterranean road 
employed the labour of above a thousand men for 
nearly four years. Besides excavating the arch out 
of a solid rock, they used 23,000,000 of bricks, and 
8,000 tons of Roman cement in the building of the 
tunnel. Thirteen stationary engines, and about loo 


horses, were also employed in drawing the earth and 
stone out of the shafts. Its entire length is 2869 
yards, or nearly i| mile — exceeding the famous 
Kilsby Tunnel by 471 yards. 

The Midland Railway was a favourite line of 
Mr. Stephenson's for several reasons. It passed 
through a rich mining district, in which it opened 
up many valuable coal-fields, and it formed part 
of the great main line of communication between 
London and Edinburgh. The Act was obtained in 
1836, and the first ground was broken in February, 


Although the Midland Railway was only one of 
the many great works of the same kind executed at 
that time, it was almost enough of itself to be the 
achievement of a life. Compare it, for example, with 
Napoleon's military road over the Simplon, and it 
will at once be seen how greatly it excels that work, 
not only in the constructive skill displayed in it, but 
also in its cost and magnitude, and the amount of 
labour employed in its formation. The road of the 
Simplon is 45 miles in length ; the North Midland 
Railway is 72^ miles. The former has 50 bridges 
and 5 tunnels, measuring together 1338 feet in 
length ; the latter has 200 bridges and 7 tunnels, 
measuring together 11,400 feet, or about 2i miles. 
The former cost about 720,000/. sterling, the latter 
above 3,000,000/. Napoleon's grand military road 
was constructed in six years, at the public cost of 
the two great kingdoms of France and Italy ; while 
Stephenson's railway was formed in about three 
years, by a company of private merchants and 
capitalists out of their own funds, and under their 
own superintendence. 

It is scarcely necessary that we should give any 


account in detail of the North Midland works. The 
making of one tunnel so much resembles the making 
of another, — the building of bridges and viaducts, no 
matter how extensive, so much resembles the build- 
ing of others, — the cutting out of " dirt," the blasting 
of rocks, and the wheeling of excavation into em- 

Land-siip on North Midland Line, near Ambergate. 

bankments, is so much a matter of mere time and 
hard work, — that is quite unnecessary for us to 
detain the reader by any attempt at their description. 
Of course there were the usual difficulties to en- 
counter and overcome, — but the railway engineer 
regarded these as mere matters of course, and would 


probably have been disappointed if they had not 
presented themselves. 

On the Midland, as on other lines, water was 
the great enemy to be fought against, — water in the 
Claycross and other tunnels, — water in the boggy 
or sandy foundations of bridges, — and water in 
cuttings and embankments. As an illustration of 
the difficulties of bridge building, we may mention 
the case of the five-arch bridge over the Derwent, 
where it took two years* work, night and day, to 
get in the foundations of the piers alone. Another 
curious illustration of the mischief done by water 
in cuttings may be briefly mentioned. At a part of 
the North Midland Line, near Ambergate, it was 
necessary to pass along a hillside in a cutting a few 
yards deep. As the cutting proceeded, a seam of 
shale was cut across, lying at an inclination of 6 to 
I ; and shortly after, the water getting behind the 
bed of shale, the whole mass of earth along the hill 
above began to move down across the line of excava- 
tion. The accident completely upset the estimates 
of the contractor, who, instead of 50,000 cubic yards, 
found that he had about 500,000 to remove; the 
execution of this part of the railway occupying 
fifteen months instead of two. 

The Oakenshaw cutting near Wakefield was also 
of a very formidable character. About 600,000 yards 
of rock shale and bind were quarried out of it, and 
led to form the adjoining Oakenshaw embankment. 
The Normanton cutting was almost as heavy, 
requiring the removal of 400,000 yards of the same 
kind of excavation into embankment and spoil. But 
the progress of the works on the line was so rapid 
in 1839, ^hat not less than 450,000 cubic yards of 
excavation were removed monthly. 




As a curiosity in construction, we may also 
mention a very delicate piece of work executed on 
the same railway at Bullbridge in Derbyshire, where 
the line at the same point passes oversi bridge which 
here spans the river Amber, and under the bed of 
the Cromford Canal. Water, bridge, railway, and 
canal, were thus piled one above the other, four 

Bullbridge, near Ambergate. 


Stories high ; such another curious complication 
probably not existing. In order to prevent the 
possibility of the waters of the canal breaking in 
upon the works of the railroad, Mr. Stephenson had 
an iron trough made, 150 feet long, of the width of 
the canal, and exactly fitting the bottom. It was 
brought to the spot in three pieces, which were 
firmly welded together, and the trough was then 


floated into its place and sunk ; the whole operation 
being completed without in the least interfering 
with the navigation of the canal. The railway 
works underneath were then proceeded with and 

Another line of the same series constructed by 
George Stephenson, was the York and North 
Midland, extending from Normanton — a point on 
the Midland Railway — to York; but it was a line 
of easy formation, traversing a comparatively level 

During the time that our engineer was engaged 
in superintending the execution of these under- 
takings, he was occupied upon other projected 
railways in various parts of the country. He 
surveyed several lines in the neighbourhood of 
Glasgow, and afterwards routes along the east 
coast from Newcastle to Edinburgh, with the view 
of completing the main line of communication with 
London. When out on foot in the fields, on these 
occasions, he was ever foremost in the march ; and 
he delighted to test the prowess of his companions 
by a good jump at any hedge or ditch that lay in their 
way. His companions used to remark his singular 
quickness of observation. Nothing escaped his 
attention — the trees, the crops, the birds, or the 
farmer's stock; and he was usually full of lively 
conversation, everything in nature affording him an 
opportunity for making some striking remark, or 
propounding some ingenious theory. When taking 
a flying survey of a new line, his keen observation 
proved very useful to him, for he rapidly noted the 
general configuration of the country, and inferred its 
geological structure. He afterwards remarked to a 
friend, '* I have planned many a railway travelling 


along in a postchaise, and following the natural line 
of the country." And it was remarkable that his 
first impressions of the direction to be taken almost 
invariably proved correct ; and there are few of the 
lines surveyed and recommended by him which have 
not been executed, either during his lifetime or 
since. As an illustration of his quick and shrewd 
observation on such occasions, we may mention 
that when employed to lay out a line to connect 
Manchester, through Macclesfield, with the Potteries, 
the gentleman who accompanied him on the journey 
of inspection cautioned him to provide large ac- 
commodation for carrying oflF the water, observing — 
"You must not judge by the appearance of the 
brooks ; for after heavy rains these hills pour down 
volumes of water, of which you can have no con- 
ception." " Pooh ! pooh ! dofit I see your bridges ? " 
replied the engineer. He had noted the details of 
each as he passed along. 

Among the other projects which occupied his 
attention about the same time, were the projected 
lines between Chester and Holyhead, between Leeds 
and Bradford, and between Lancaster and Maryport 
by the western coast. This latter was intended to 
form part of a west-coast line to Scotland ; Stephen- 
son favouring it partly because of the flatness of the 
gradients, and also because it could be formed at com- 
paratively small cost, whilst it would open out a 
valuable iron-mining district, from which a large 
traffic in iron-stone was expected. One of its col- 
lateral advantages in the engineer's opinion, was, that 
by forming the railway directly across Morecambe 
Bay, on the north-west coast of Lancashire, a large 
tract of valuable land might be reclaimed from the 
sea, the sale of which would considerably reduce the 


cost of the works. He estimated that by means of 
a solid embankment across the bay, not less than 
40,000 acres of rich alluvial land would be gained. 
He proposed to carry the road across the ten miles 
of sands which lie between Poulton, near Lancaster, 
and Humphrey Head on the opposite coast, forming 
the line in a segment of a circle of five miles' radius. 
His plan was to drive in piles across the entire 
length, forming a solid fence of stone blocks on the 
land side for the purpose of retaining the sand and 
silt brought down by the rivers from the interior. 
The embankment would then be raised from time 
to time as the deposit accumulated, until the land 
was filled up to high-water mark ; provision being 
made by means of sufficient arches, for the flow 
of the river waters into the bay. The execution of 
the railway after this plan would, however, have 
occupied more years than the promoters of the 
West Coast line were disposed to wait ; and even- 
tually Mr. Locke's more direct but uneven line by 
Shap Fell was adopted. A railway has since been 
carried across the head of the bay; and it is not 
improbable that Stephenson's larger scheme of 
reclaiming the vast tract of land now left bare at 
each receding tide, may yet be carried out. 

While occupied in carrying out the great rail- 
way undertakings which we have above so briefly 
described, Mr. Stephenson's home continued, for 
the greater part of the time, to be at Alton Grange, 
near Leicester. But he was so much occupied in 
travelling about from one committee of directors 
to another — one week in England, another in 
Scotland, and probably the next in Ireland, — that 
he often did not see his home for weeks together. 
He had also to make frequent inspections of the 


various important and difficult works in progress, 
especially on the Midland and Manchester and 
Leeds lines; besides occasionally going to New- 
castle to see how the locomotive works were going 
on there. During the three years ending in 1837 — 
perhaps the busiest years of his life * — he travelled 
by postchaise alone upwards of 20,000 miles, and 
yet not less than six months out of the three years 
were spent in London. Hence there is compara- 
tively little to record of Mr. Stephenson*s private 
life at this period ; during which he had scarcely 
a moment that he could call his own. 

His correspondence increased so much, that he 
found it necessary to engage a private secretary, 
who accompanied him on his journeys. He was 
himself exceedingly averse to writing letters. The 
comparatively advanced age at which he learnt the 
art of writing, and the nature of his duties while 
engaged at the Killingworth colliery, precluded 
that facility in correspondence which onl}^ constant 
practice can give. He gradually, however, acquired 
great facility in dictation, and possessed the power 
of labouring continuously at this work ; the gentle- 
man who acted as his secretary in 1835 having 
informed us that during his busy season he one day 
dictated not fewer than 37 letters, several of them 
embodying the results of much close thinking and 

* During this period he was engaged on the North Midland, 
extending from Derby to Leeds ; the York and North Midland, 
from Normanton to York ; the Manchester and Leeds ; the 
Birmingham and Derby, and the Sheffield and Rotherham Rail- 
ways ; the whole of these, of which he was principal engineer, 
having been authorised in 1836. In that session alone, powers 
were obtained for the construction of 214 miles of new railways 
under his direction, at an expenditure of upwards of fwe millions 


calculation. On another occasion, he dictated 
reports and letters for twelve continuous hours, 
until his secretary was ready to drop off his chair 
from sheer exhaustion, and at length he pleaded for 
a suspension of the labour. This great mass of 
correspondence, although closely bearing on the 
subjects under discussion, was not, however, of a 
kind to supply the biographer with matter for 
quotation, or give that insight into the life and 
character of the writer which the letters of literary 
men so often furnish. They were, for the most 
part, letters of mere business, relating to works 
in progress, parliamentary contests, new surveys, 
estimates of cost, and railway policy, — curt, and to 
the point; in short, the letters of a man every 
moment of whose time was precious. He was also 
frequently called upon to inspect and report upon 
colliery works, salt works, brass and copper works, 
and such like in addition to his own colliery and 
railway business. And occasionally he would run 
up to London, for the purpose of attending in 
person to the preparation and deposit of the plans 
and sections of the projected undertakings of which 
he had been appointed engineer. 

Fortunately Stephenson possessed a facility of 
sleeping, which enabled him to pass through this 
enormous amount of fatigue and labour without 
injury to his health. He had been trained in a hard 
school, and could bear with ease conditions which, 
to men more softly nurtured, would have been 
the extreme of physical discomfort Many, many 
nights he snatched his sleep while travelling in his 
chaise ; and at break of day he would be at work, 
surveying until dark, and this for weeks in succes- 
sion. His whole powers seemed to be under the 

CHAP XIV] THE robins' NEST 319 

control of his will, for he could wake at any hour, 
and go to work at once. It was difficult for 
secretaries and assistants to keep up with such a 

It is pleasant to record that in the midst of these 
engrossing occupations, his heart remained as soft 
and loving as ever. In spring-time he would not 
be debarred of his boyish pursuit of bird-nesting ; 
but would go rambling along the hedges spying for 
nests. In the autumn he went nutting, and when 
he could snatch a few minutes he indulged in his old 
love of gardening. His uniform kindness and good 
temper, and his communicative, intelligent disposi- 
tion, made him a great favourite with the neigh- 
bouring farmers, to whom he would volunteer much 
valuable advice on agricultural operations, drainage, 
ploughing, and labour-saving processes. Sometimes 
he took a long rural ride on his favourite " Bobby," 
now growing old, but as fond of his master as ever. 
Towards the end of his life, "Bobby" lived in 
clover, its master's pet, doing no work; and he 
died at Tapton, in 1845, more than twenty years 

During one of George's brief sojourns at the 
Grange, he found time to write to his son a touch- 
ing account of a pair of robins that had built their 
nest within one of the upper chambers of the house. 
One day he observed a robin fluttering outside the 
windows, and beating its wings against the panes, 
as if eager to gain admission. He went up stairs, 
and there found, in a retired part of one of the 
rooms, a robin's nest, with one of the parent birds 
sitting over three or four young — all dead. The 
excluded bird outside still beat against the panes; 
and on the window being let down, it flew into 

320 Stephenson's london office [chap xiv 

the room, but was so exhausted that it dropped 
upon the floor. Mr. Stephenson took up the bird, 
carried it down stairs, had it warmed and fed. The 
poor robin revived, and for a time was one of his 
pets. But it shortly died too, as if unable to 
recover from the privations it had endured during 
its three days' fluttering and beating at the windows, 
It appeared that the room had been unoccupied, 
and, the sash having been let down, the robins had 
taken the opportunity of building their nest within 
it ; but the servant having closed the window 
again, the calamity befel the birds which so 
strongly excited Mr. Stephenson's sympathies. An 
incident such as this, trifling though it may seem, 
gives the true key to the heart of the man. 

The amount of their Parliamentary business 
having greatly increased with the projection of new 
lines of railway, the Stephensons found it necessary 
to set up an office in London in 1836. George's 
first office was at 9, Duke-street, Westminster, from 
whence he removed in the following year to 30^, 
Great George-street. That office was the busy 
scene of railway politics for several years. There 
consultations were held, schemes were matured, 
deputations were received, and many projectors 
called upon our engineer for the purpose of sub- 
mitting to him their plans of railways and railway 
working. His private secretary at the time has in- 
formed us that at the end of the first Parliamentary 
session in which he had been engaged as engineer 
for more companies than one, it became necessary 
for him to give instructions as to the preparation 
of the accounts to be rendered to the respective 
companies. In the simplicity of his heart, he 
directed Mr. Binns to take his full time at the rate 


of ten guineas a day, and charge the railway com- 
panies in the proportion in Which he had been 
actually employed on their respective business 
during each day. When Robert heard of this 
instruction, he went directly to his father and 
expostulated with him against this unprofessional 
course ; and, other influences being brought to bear 
upon him, George at length reluctantly consented 
to charge as other engineers did, an entire day's fee 
to each of the Companies for which he was con- 
cerned whilst their business was going forward; 
but he cut down the number of days charged for 
and reduced the daily amount from ten to seven 

Besides his journeys at home, Mr. Stephenson 
was on more than one occasion called abroad on rail- 
way business. Thus, at the desire of King Leopold, 
he made several visits to Belgium to assist the 
Belgian engineers in laying out the national lines 
of that kingdom. That enlightened monarch at an 
early period discerned the powerful instrumentality 
of railways in developing a country's resources, 
and he determined at the earliest possible period 
to adopt them as the great high-roads of the nation. 
The country, being rich in coal and minerals, had 
great manufacturing capabilities. It had good ports, 
fine navigable rivers, abundant canals, and a 
teeming, industrious population. Leopold perceived 
that railways were eminently calculated to bring the 
industry of the country into full play, and to render 
the riches of the provinces available to the rest of 
the kingdom. He therefore openly declared himself 
the promoter of public railways throughout Belgium. 
A system of lines was projected, at his instance, 
connecting Brussels with the chief towns and 


cities of the kingdom ; extending from Ostend east- 
ward to the Prussian frontier, and from Antwerp 
southward to the French frontier. 

Mr. Stephenson and his son, as the leading 
railway-engineers of England, were consulted by 
the King on the best mode of carrying out his 
important plans, as early as 1835. In the course of 
that year they visited Belgium, and had several 
interesting conferences with Leopold and his 
ministers on the subject of the proposed railways. 
The King then appointed George Stephenson by 
royal ordinance a Knight of the Order of Leopold. 
At the invitation of the monarch, Mr. Stephenson 
made a second visit to Belgium in 1837, on the 
occasion of the public opening of the line from 
Brussels to Ghent. At Brussels there was a public 
procession, and another at Ghent on the arrival of 
the train. Stephenson and his party accompanied 
it to the Public Hall, there to dine with the chief 
Ministers of State, the municipal authorities, and 
about five hundred of the principal inhabitants of 
the city ; the English Ambassador being also present. 
After the King's health and a few others had been 
drunk, that of Mr. Stephenson was proposed ; on 
which the whole assembly rose up, amidst great 
excitement and loud applause, and made their way 
to where he sat, in order to jingle glasses with him, 
greatly to his own amazement. On the day following, 
our engineer dined with- the King and Queen at 
their own table at Laaken, by special invitation ; 
afterwards accompanying his Majesty and suite to 
a public ball given by the municipality of Brussels, 
in honour of the opening of the line to Ghent, as 
well as of their distinguished English guest. On 
entering the room, the general and excited inquiry 


was, "Which is Stephenson?" The English 
engineer had not before imagined that he was 
esteemed to be so great a man. 

The London and Birmingham Railway having 
been completed in September, 1838, after being 
about five years in progress, the great main system 
of railway communication between London, Liver- 
pool, and Manchester was then opened to the public. 
For some months previously, the line had been 
partially opened, coaches performing the journey 
between Denbigh Hall (near Wolverton) and Rugby, 
— the works of the Kilsby tunnel being still in- 
complete. It was already amusing to hear the 
complaints of the travellers about the slowness of 
the coaches as compared with the railway, though 
the coaches travelled at the speed of eleven miles 
an hour. The comparison of comfort was also 
greatly to the disparagement of the coaches. Then 
the railway train could accommodate any quantity, 
whilst the road conveyances were limited ; and 
when a press of travellers -occurred — as on the 
occasion of the Queen's coronation — the greatest 
inconvenience was experienced, and as much as 
10/. was paid for a seat on a donkey-chaise between 
Rugby and Denbigh. On the opening of the railway 
throughout, of course all this inconvenience and 
delay was brought to an end. 

Numerous other openings of railways constructed 
by Mr. Stephenson took place about the same time. 
The Birmingham and Derby line was opened for 
traffic in August, 1839; the Sheffield and Rotherham 
in November, 1839; and in the course of the follow- 
ing year, the Midland, the York and North Midland, 
the Chester and Crewe, the Chester and Birkenhead, 
the Manchester and Birmingham, the Manchester 

Y 2 


and Leeds, and the Maryport and Carlisle railways, 
were all publicly opened in whole or in part. Thus 
321 miles of railway (exclusive of the London and 
Birmingham) constructed under Mr. Stephenson's 
superintendence, at a cost of upwards of eleven 
millions sterling, were, in the course of about two 
years, added to the traffic accommodation of the 

The ceremonies which accompanied the public 
opening of these lines were often of an interesting 
character. The adjoining population held general 
holiday ; bands played, banners waved, and as- 
sembled thousands cheered the passing trains 
amidst the occasional booming of cannon. The 
proceedings were usually wound up by a public 
dinner; and in the course of the speeches which 
followed, Mr. Stephenson would revert to his 
favourite topic — the difficulties which he had early 
encountered in the promotion of the railway system, 
and in establishing the superiority of the locomotive. 
On such occasions he always took great pleasure 
in alluding to the services rendered to himself and 
the public by the young men brought up under his 
eye — his pupils at first, and afterwards his assistants. 
No great master ever possessed a more devoted 
band of assistants and fellow-workers than he did. 
It was one of the most marked evidences of his own 
admirable tact and judgment that he selected, with 
such undeviating correctness, the men best fitted 
to carry out his plans. Indeed, the ability to 
accomplish great things, and to carry grand ideas 
into practical effect, depends in no small measure 
on that intuitive knowledge of character, which 
Stephenson possessed in so remarkable a degree. 

At the dinner at York, which followed the partial 

CHAP xiv] Stephenson's assistants 325 

opening of the York and North Midland Railway, 
Mr. Stephenson said, "he was sure they would 
appreciate his feeHngs when he told them, that when 
he first began railway business his hair was black, 
although it was now grey ; and that he began his 
life's labour as but a poor ploughboy. About thirty 
years since, he had applied himself to the study 
of how to generate high velocities by mechanical 
means. He thought he had solved that problem ; 
and they had for themselves seen, that day, what 
perseverance had brought him to. He was, on that 
occasion, only too happy to have an opportunity of 
acknowledging that he had, in the latter portion of 
his career, received much most valuable assistance, 
particularly from- young men brought up in his 
manufactory. Whenever talent showed itself in 
a young man he had always given that talent en- 
couragement where he could, and he would continue 
to do so." 

That this was no exaggerated statement is amply 
proved by many facts which redound to Mr. 
Stephenson's credit. He was no niggard of en- 
couragement and praise when he saw honest industry 
struggling for a footing. Many were the young 
men whom, in the course of his useful career, he 
took by the hand and led steadily up to honour 
and emolument, simply because he had noted their 
zeal, diligence, and integrity. One youth excited 
his interest while working as a common carpenter 
on the Liverpool and Manchester line ; and before 
many years had passed he was recognised as an 
engineer of distinction. Another young man he 
found industriously working away at his bye-hours, 
and, admiring his diligence, engaged him for his 
private secretary, the gentleman shortly after rising 


to a position of eminent influence and usefulness. 
Indeed, nothing gave Mr. Stephenson greater 
pleasure than in this way to help on any deserving 
youth who came under his observation, and, in his 
own expressive phrase, to " make a man of him." 

The openings of the great main lines of railroad 
communication shortly proved the fallaciousness of 
the numerous rash prophecies which had been 
promulgated by the opponents of railways. The 
proprietors of the canals were astounded by the 
fact that, notwithstanding the immense traffic con- 
veyed by rail, their own traffic and receipts continued 
to increase ; and that, in common with other interests, 
they fully shared in the expansion of trade and 
commerce which had been so effectually promoted 
by the extension of the railway system. The 
cattle-owners were equally amazed to find the price 
of horse-flesh increasing with the extension of 
railways, and that the number of coaches running 
to and from the new railway-stations gave employ- 
ment to a greater number of horses than under the 
old stage-coach system. Those who had prophesied 
the decay of the metropolis, and the ruin of the 
suburban cabbage-growers, in consequence of the 
approach of railways to London, were also dis- 
appointed ; for, while the new roads let citizens out 
of London, they let country people in. Their action, 
in this respect, was centripetal as well as centrifugal. 
Tens of thousands who had never seen the metro- 
polis could now visit it expeditiously and cheaply ; 
and Londoners who had never visited the country, 
or but rarely, were enabled, at little cost of time or 
money, to see green fields and clear blue skies, far 
from the smoke and bustle of town. If the dear 
suburban-grown cabbages became depreciated in 


value, there were truck-loads of fresh-grown country 
cabbages to make amends for the loss ; in this case, 
the *' partial evil " was a far more general good. 
The food of the metropolis became rapidly improved, 
especially in the supply of wholesome meat and 
vegetables. And then the price of coals — an article 
which, in this country, is as indispensable as daily 
food to all classes — was greatly reduced. What 
a blessing to the metropolitan poor is described in 
this single fact ! 

The prophecies of ruin and disaster to landlords 
and farmers were equally confounded by the openings 
of the railways. The agricultural communications, 
so far from being " destroyed," as had been predicted, 
were immensely improved. The farmers were 
enabled to buy their coals, lime, and manure for 
less money, while they obtained a readier access to 
the best markets for their stock and farm-produce. 
Notwithstanding the predictions to the contrary, 
their cows gave milk as before, their sheep fed and 
fattened, and even skittish horses ceased to shy 
at the passing locomotive. The smoke of the 
engines did not obscure the sky, nor were farm- 
yards burnt up by the fire thrown from the loco- 
motives. The farming classes were not reduced 
to beggary ; on the contrary, they soon felt that, 
so far from having anything to dread, they had 
very much good to expect from the extension of 

Landlords also found that they could get higher 
rents for farms situated near a railway than at a 
distance from one. Hence they became clamorous 
for " sidings." They felt it to be a grievance to be 
placed at a distance from a station. After a railway 
had been once opened, not a landlord would consent 


to have the line taken from him. Owners who had 
fought the promoters before Parliament, and com- 
pelled them to pass their domains at a distance, 
at a vastly-increased expense in tunnels and devi- 
ations, now petitioned for branches and nearer 
station accommodation. Those who held property 
near towns, and had extorted large sums as com- 
pensation for the anticipated deterioration in the 
value of their building land, found a new demand 
for it springing up at greatly advanced prices. 
Land was now advertised for sale, with the attrac- 
tion of being " near a railway station." 

The prediction that, even if railways were made, 
the public would not use them, was also completely 
falsified by the results. The ordinary mode of fast 
travelling for the middle classes had heretofore 
been by mail-coach and stage-coach. Those who 
could not aflFord to pay the high prices charged for 
such conveyances went by waggon, and the poorer 
classes trudged on foot. George Stephenson was 
wont to say that he hoped to see the day when 
it would be cheaper for a poor man to travel by 
railway than to walk, and not many years passed 
before his expectation was fulfilled. In no country 
in the world is time worth more money than in 
England; and by saving time — the criterion of 
distance — the railway proved a great benefactor 
to men of industry in all classes. 

It was some time before the more opulent, who 
could afford to post to town in aristocratic style, 
became reconciled to railway travelling. In the 
opinion of many, it was only another illustration of 
the levelling tendencies of the age. It put an end 
to that gradation of rank in travelling which was 
one of the few things left by which the nobleman 


could be distinguished from the Manchester manu- 
facturer and bagman. But to younger sons of noble 
families the convenience and cheapness of the railway 
did not fail to recommend itself One of these, 
whose eldest brother had just succeeded to an earl- 
dom, said one day to a railway manager : " I like 
railways — they just suit young fellows like me with 
* nothing per annum paid quarterly/ You know we 
can't afford to post, and it used to be deuced annoying 
to me, as I was jogging along on the box-seat of the 
stage-coach, to see the little Earl go by drawn by his 
four posters, and just look up at me and give me a 
nod. But now, with railways, it's different. It's 
true, he may take a first-class ticket, while I can only 
afford a second-class one, but we both go the same pace'' 
For a time, however, many of the old families 
sent forward their servants and luggage by railroad, 
and condemned themselves to jog along the old high- 
way in the accustomed family chariot, dragged by 
country post-horses. But the superior comfort of the 
railway shortly recommended itself to even the oldest 
families ; posting went out of date ; post-horses 
were with difficulty to be had along even the great 
high-roads ; and nobles and servants, manufacturers 
and peasants, alike shared in the comfort, the con- 
venience, and the despatch of railway travelling. 
The late Dr. Arnold, of Rugby, regarded the opening 
of the London and Birmingham line as another 
great step accomplished in the march of civilisation. 
" I rejoice to see it," he said, as he stood on one of 
the bridges over the railway, and watched the train 
flashing along under him, and away through the 
distant hedgerows — *' I rejoice to see it, and to think 
that feudality is gone for ever : it is so great a 
blessing to think that any one evil is really extinct." 



It was long before the late Duke of Wellington 
would trust himself behind a locomotive. The fatal 
accident to Mr. Huskisson, which had happened 
before his eyes, contributed to prejudice him strongly 
against railways, and it was not until the year 1843 
that he performed his first trip on the South Western 
Railway, in attendance upon her Majesty. Prince 
Albert had for some time been accustomed to travel 
by railway alone, but in 1842 the Queen began to 
make use of the same mode of conveyance between 
Windsor and London. Even Colonel Sibthorpe 
was eventually compelled to acknowledge its utility. 
For a time he continued to post to and from the 
country as before. Then he compromised the matter 
by taking a railway ticket for the long journey, and 
posting only a stage or two nearest town; until, 
at length, he undisguisedly committed himself, like 
other people, to the express train, and performed 
the journey throughout upon what he had formerly 
denounced as *' the infernal railroad." 

Coalville and Snibston Colliery. 


Tapton House, near Chesterfield. 




While George Stephenson was engaged in carry- 
ing on the works of the Midland Railway in 
the neighbourhood of Chesterfield, several seams 
of coal were cut through in the Claycross Tunnel, 
and it occurred to him that if mines were opened 
out there, the railway would provide the means 
of a ready sale for the article in the midland 


counties, and as far south as even the metropolis 

At a time when everybody else was sceptical as 
to the possibility of coals being carried from the 
midland counties to London, and sold there at a 
price to compete with those which were seaborne, 
he declared his firm conviction that the time was 
fast approaching when the London market would 
be regularly supplied with north-country coals led 
by railway. One of the greatest advantages of 
railways, in his opinion was that they would bring 
iron and coal, the staple products of the country, to 
the doors of all England. " The strength of Britain/' 
he would say, *' lies in her iron and coal beds ; and 
the locomotive is destined, above all other agencies, 
to bring it forth. The Lord Chancellor now sits 
upon a bag of wool ; but wool has long ceased to be 
emblematical of the staple commodity of England. 
He ought rather to sit upon a bag of coals, though 
it might not prove quite so comfortable a seat 
Then think of the Lord Chancellor being addressed 
as the noble and learned lord on the coal-sack! I 
am afraid it wouldn't answer, after all." 

To one gentleman he said : " We want from the 
coal-mining, the iron-producing and manufacturing 
districts, a great railway for the carriage of these 
valuable products. We want, if I may so say, a 
stream of steam running directly through the 
country, from the North to London, and from other 
similar districts to London. Speed is not so much 
an object as utility and cheapness. It will not do to 
mix up the heavy merchandize and coal trains with 
the passenger trains. Coal and most kinds of goods 
can wait ; but passengers will not. A less perfect 
road and less expensive works will do well enough 


for coal trains, if run at a low speed ; and if the line 
be flat, it is not of much consequence whether it be 
direct or not Whenever you put passenger trains 
on a line, all the other trains must be run at high 
speeds to keep out of their way. But coal trains 
run at high speeds pull the road to pieces, besides 
causing large expenditure in locomotive power ; and 
I doubt very much whether they will pay after all ; 
but a succession of long coal trains, if run at from 
ten to fourteen miles an hour, would pay very well. 
Thus the Stockton and Darlington Company made 
a larger profit when running coal at low speeds at a 
halfpenny a ton per mile, than they have been able 
to do since they put on their fast passenger trains, 
when everything must needs be run faster, and a 
much larger proportion of the gross receipts is 
absorbed by working expenses." 

In advocating these views, Mr. Stephenson was 
considerably ahead of his time; and although he 
did not live to see his anticipations fully realised as 
to the supply of the London coal-market, he was 
nevertheless the first to point out, and to some 
extent to prove, the practicability of establishing 
a profitable coal trade by railway between the 
northern counties and the metropolis. So long, 
however, as the traffic was conducted on main 
passenger lines at comparatively high speeds, it 
was found that the expenditure on tear and wear of 
road and locomotive power, — not to mention the 
increased risk of carrying on the first-class passen- 
ger traffic with which it was mixed up, — necessarily 
left a very small margin of profit ; and hence Mr. 
Stephenson was in the habit of urging the propriety 
of constructing a railway which should be exclusively 
devoted to goods and mineral traffic run at low 


speeds as the only condition on which a large rail- 
way traffic of that sort could be profitably conducted. 
Having induced some of his Liverpool friends to 
join him in a coal-mining adventure at Chesterfield, 
a lease was taken of the Claycross estate, then for 
sale, and operations were shortly after begun. At 
a subsequent period Mr. Stephenson extended his 
coal-mining operations in the same neighbourhood ; 

Lime Works at Ambergate. 

and in 1841 he himself entered into a contract with 
owners of land in adjoining townships for the 
working of the coal thereunder; and pits were 
opened on the Tapton estate on an extensive scale. 
About the same time he erected great lime-works, 
close to the Ambergate station of the Midland 
Railway, from which, when in full operation he was 
able to turn out upwards of 200 tons a day. The 
limestone was brought on a tramway from the 


village of Crich, 2 or 3 miles distant, the coal being 
supplied from his adjoining Claycross colliery. The 
works were on a scale such as had not before been 
attempted by any private individual engaged in a 
similar trade ; and we believe they proved very 

Tapton House was included in the lease of one 
of the collieries, and as it was conveniently situated 
— being, as it were, a central point on the Midland 
Railway, from which he could readily proceed north 
or south, on his journeys of inspection of the various 
lines then under construction in the midland and 
northern counties, — he took up his residence there, 
and it continued his home until the close of his life. 

Tapton House is a large roomy brick mansion, 
beautifully situated amidst woods, upon a command- 
ing eminence, about a mile to the north-east of the 
town of Chesterfield. Green fields dotted with fine 
trees slope away from the house in all directions. 
The surrounding country is undulating and highly 
picturesque. North and south the eye ranges over 
a vast extent of lovely scenery ; and on the west, 
looking over the town of Chesterfield, with its 
church and crooked spire, the extensive range of the 
Derbyshire hills bounds the distance. The Midland 
Railway skirts the western edge of the park in a 
deep rock cutting, and the shrill whistle of the loco- 
motive sounds near at hand as the trains speed past. 
The gardens and pleasure-grounds adjoining the 
house were in a very neglected state when Mr. 
Stephenson first went to Tapton ; and he promised 
himself, when he had secured rest and leisure from 
business, that he would put a new face upon both. 
The first improvement he made was cutting a wood- 
land footpath up the hill-side, by which he at the 


same time added a beautiful feature to the park, and 
secured a shorter road to the Chesterfield station. 
But it was some years before he found time to carry 
into effect his contemplated improvements in the 
adjoining gardens and pleasure-grounds. He had 
so long been accustomed to laborious pursuits, and 
felt himself still so full of work, that he could not at 
once settle down into the habit of quietly enjoying 
the fruits of his industry. 

He had no difficulty in usefully employing his 
time. Besides directing the mining operations at 
Claycross, the establishment of the lime-kilns at 
Ambergate, and the construction of the extensive 
railways still in progress, he occasionally paid visits 
to Newcastle, where his locomotive manufactory was 
now in full work, and the proprietors were reaping 
the advantages of his early foresight in an abundant 
measure of prosperity. One of his most interesting 
visits to the place was in 1838, on the occasion of the 
meeting of the British Association there, when he 
acted as one of the Vice-Presidents in the section 
of Mechanical Science. Extraordinary changes had 
occurred in his own fortunes, as well as in the face 
of the country, since he had first appeared before a 
scientific body in Newcastle — the members of the 
Literary and Philosophical Institute — to submit his 
safety-lamp for their examination. Twenty-three 
years had passed over his head, full of honest work, 
of manful struggle ; and the humble " colliery engine- 
wright of the name of Stephenson " had achieved an 
almost world-wide reputation as a public benefactor. 
His fellow-townsmen, therefore, could not hesitate 
to recognise his merits and do honour to his name. 
During the sittings of the Association, Mr. Stephen- 
son took the opportunity of paying a visit to Killing- 

CHAP XV] mechanics' INSTITUTES 337 

worth, accompanied by some of the distinguished 
savans whom he numbered amongst his friends. He 
there pointed out to them, with a degree of honest 
pride, the cottage in which he had lived for so many 
years, showed what parts of it had been his own 
handiwork, and told them the story of the sun-dial 
over the door, describing the study and the labour 
it had cost him and his son to calculate its dimensions, 
and fix it in its place. The dial had been serenely 
numbering the hours through the busy years that 
had elapsed since that humble dwelling had been his 
home ; during which the Killingworth locomotive 
had become a great working power, and its con- 
triver had established the railway system, which 
was now rapidly becoming extended in all parts of 
the world. 

About the same time, his services were very 
much in request at the meetings of Mechanics* 
Institutes held throughout the northern counties. 
From an early period in his history, he had taken 
an active interest in these institutions. While 
residing at Newcastle in 1824, shortly after his 
locomotive foundry had been started in Forth-street, 
he presided at a public meeting held in that town 
for the purpose of establishing a Mechanics' Institute. 
The meeting was held ; but as George Stephenson 
was a man comparatively unknown even in New- 
castle at that time, his name failed to secure "an 
influential attendance." Among those who addressed 
the meeting on the occasion was Joseph Locke, then 
his pupil, and afterwards his rival as an engineer. 
The local papers scarcely noticed the proceedings ; 
yet the Mechanics* Institute was founded, and 
struggled into existence. Years passed, and it was 
now felt to be an honour to secure Mr. Stephenson's 
V. z 

338 mechanics' institutes [chap xv 

presence at any public meetings held for the pro- 
motion of popular education. Among the Mechanics' 
Institutes in his immediate neighbourhood at Tap- 
ton, were those of Belper and Chesterfield ; and at 
their soirees he was a frequent and a welcome 
visitor. On these occasions he loved to tell his 
auditors of the difficulties which had early beset 
him through want of knowledge, and of the means 
by which he had overcome them. His grand text 
was — Persevere; and 'there was manhood in the 
very word. 

On more than one occasion, the author had the 
pleasure of listening to George Stephenson's homely 
but forcible addresses at the annual soirees of the 
Leeds Mechanics' Institute. He was always an 
immense favourite with his audiences there. His 
personal appearance was greatly in his favour. 
A handsome, ruddy, expressive face, lit up by 
bright dark-blue eyes, prepared one for his earnest 
words when he stood up to speak and the cheers 
had subsided which invariably hailed his rising. 
He was not glib, but he was very impressive. And 
who, so well as he, could serve as a guide to the 
working man in his endeavours after higher know- 
ledge? His early life had been all struggle — 
encounter with difficulty — groping in the dark after 
greater light, but always earnestly and perseveringly. 
His words were therefore all the more weighty, 
since he spoke from the fulness of his own experi- 

Nor did he remain a mere inactive spectator 
of the improvements in railway working which 
increasing experience from day to day suggested. 
He continued to contrive improvements in the loco- 
motive, and to mature his invention of the carriage- 


brake. When examined before the Select Com- 
mittee on Railways in 1841, his mind seems princi- 
pally to have been impressed with the necessity 
which existed for adopting a system of self-acting 
brakes ; stating that, in his opinion, this was the 
most important arrangement that could be provided 
for increasing the safety of railway travelling. " I 
believe," he said, " that if self-acting brakes were 
put upon every carriage, scarcely any accident 
could take place. His plan consisted in employing 
the momentum of the running train to throw his 
proposed brakes into action, immediately on the 
moving power of the engine being checked. He 
would also have these brakes under the control 
of the guard, by means of a connecting line running 
along the whole length of the train, by which they 
should at once be thrown out of gear when neces- 
sary. At the same time he suggested, as an addi- 
tional means of safety, that the signals of the line 
should be self-acting, and worked by the locomo- 
tives as they passed along the railway. He 
considered the adoption of this plan of so much 
importance, that with a view to the public safety, 
he would even have it enforced upon railway 
companies by the legislature. At the same time 
he was of opinion that it was the interest of the 
companies themselves to adopt the plan, as it would 
save great tear and wear of engines, carriages, 
tenders, and brake-vans, besides greatly diminishing 
the risk of accidents upon railways. 

While before the same Committee, he took the 
opportunity of stating his views with reference to 
railway speed, about which wild ideas were then 
afloat — one gentleman of celebrity having publicly 
expressed the opinion that a speed of 100 miles 

z 2 


an hour was practicable in railway travelling! Not 
many years had passed since George Stephenson 
had been pronounced insane for stating his convic- 
tion that 12 miles an hour could be performed by 
the locomotive ; but now that he had established 
the fact, and greatly exceeded that speed, he Avas 
thought behind the age because he recommended 
the rate to be limited to 40 miles an hour. He said : 
** I do not like either 40 or 50 miles an hour upon 
any line — I think it is an unnecessary speed ; and 
if there is danger upon a railway, it is high velocit3^ 
that creates it. I should say no railway ought to 
exceed 40 miles an hour on the most favourable 
gradient ; but upon a curved line the speed ought 
not to exceed 24 or 25 miles an hour. He had, 
indeed, constructed for the Great Western Rail^vay 
an engine capable of running 50 miles an hour with 
a load, and 80 miles without one. But he never was 
in favour of a hurricane speed of this sort, believing 
it could only be accomplished at an unnecessary 
increase both of danger and expense. 

" It is true," he observed on other occasions, 
" I have said the locomotive engine might be made 
to travel 100 miles an hour; but I always put a 
qualification on this, namely, as to what speed 
would best suit the public. The public may, how- 
ever, be unreasonable ; and 50 or 60 miles an hour 
is an unreasonable speed. Long before railway 
travelling became general, I said to my friends that 
there was no limit to the speed of the locomotive, 
provided the works could be made to stand. But there 
are limits to the strength of iron, whether it be 
manufactured into rails or locomotives ; and there 
is a point at which both rails and tyres must break. 
Every increase of speed, by increasing the strain 


upon the road and the rolling stock, brings us 
nearer to that point. At 30 miles a slighter road 
will do, and less perfect rolling stock may be run 
upon it with safety. But if you increase the speed 
by say ten miles, then everything must be greatly 
strengthened. You must have heavier engines, 
heavier and better-fastened rails, and all your 
working expenses will be immediately increased. 
I think I know enough of mechanics to know where 
to stop. I know that a pound will weigh a pound, 
and that no more should be put upon an iron rail 
than it will bear. If you could ensure perfect iron, 
perfect rails, and perfect locomotives, I grant 50 
miles an hour or more might be run with safety 
on a level railway. But then you must not forget 
that iron, even the best, will * tire,* and with constant 
use will become more and more liable to break at 
the weakest point — perhaps where there is a secret 
flaw that the eye cannot detect. Then look at the 
rubbishy rails now manufactured on the contract 
system — some of them little better than cast metal : 
indeed, I have seen rails break merely on being 
thrown from the truck on to the ground. How 
is it possible for such rails to stand a 20 or 30 ton 
engine dashing over them at the speed of 50 miles 
an hour? No, no," he would conclude, **I am in 
favour of low speeds because they are safe, and 
because they are economical ; and you may rely 
upon it that, beyond a certain point, with every 
increase of speed there is an increase in the element 
of danger." 

When railways became the subject of popular 
discussion, many new and unsound theories were 
started with reference to them, which Stephenson 
opposed as calculated, in his opinion, to bring dis- 


credit on the locomotive system. One of these 
was with reference to what were called " undula- 
ting lines." Among others, Dr. Lardner, who had 
originally been somewhat sceptical about the po-wers 
of the locomotive, now promulgated the idea that 
a railway constructed with rising and falling 
gradients would be practically as easy to work 
as a line perfectly level. Mr. Badneli went even 
beyond him, for he held that an undulating railwa3' 
was much better than a level one for purposes ot 
working. For a time, his theory found favour, and 
the " undulating system '* was extensively adopted ; 
but Mr. Stephenson never ceased to inveigh against 
it ; and experience has amply proved that his judg- 
ment was correct. His practice, from the beginning 
of his career until the end of it, was to secure a 
road as nearly as possible on a level, following the 
course of the valleys and the natural line of the 
country : preferring to go round a hill rather than 
to tunnel under it or carry his railway over it, and 
often making a considerable circuit to secure good, 
workable gradients. He studied to lay out his 
lines so that long trains of minerals and merchandise, 
as well as passengers, might be hauled along them 
at the least possible expenditure of locomotive 
power. He had long before ascertained, by careful 
experiments at Killingworth, that the engine 
expends half of its power in overcoming a rising 
gradient of i in 260, which is about 20 feet in the 
mile ; and that when the gradient is so steep as 
I in 100, not less than three-fourths of its power 
is sacrificed in ascending the acclivity. He never 
forgot the valuable practical lesson taught him by 
the early trials which he had made and registered 
long before the advantages of railways had been 


recognised. He saw clearly that the longer flat 
line must eventually prove superior to the shorter 
line of steep gradients as respected its paying 
qualities. He urged that, after all, the power 
of the locomotive was but limited; and, although 
he and his son had done more than any other men 
to increase its working capacity, it provoked him 
to find that every improvement made in it was 
neutralised by the steep gradients which the new 
school of engineers were setting it to overcome. 
On one occasion, when Robert Stephenson stated 
before a Parliamentary Committee that every 
successive improvement in the locomotive was 
being rendered virtually nugatory by the difficult 
and almost impracticable gradients proposed on 
many of the new lines, his father, on his leaving 
the witness-box, went up to him, and said, " Robert, 
you never spoke truer words than those in all your 

To this it must be added, that in urging these 
views Mr. Stephenson was strongly influenced by 
commercial considerations. He had no desire to 
build up his reputation at the expense of railway 
shareholders, nor to obtain engineering eclat by 
making "ducks and drakes" of their money. He 
was persuaded that, in order to secure the practical 
success of railways, they must be so laid out as not 
only to prove of decided public utility, but also to 
be worked economically and to the advantage of 
their proprietors. They were not government roads, 
but private ventures — in fact, commercial specula- 
tions. He therefore endeavoured to render them 
financially profitable; and he repeatedly declared 
that if he did not believe they could be " made to 
pay," he would have nothing to do with them. He 


was not influenced by the sordid consideration of 
what he could make out of an}'^ company that em- 
ployed him; indeed, in many cases he voluntarily 
gave up his claim to remuneration where the pro- 
moters of schemes which he thought praiseworthy- 
had suffered serious loss. Thus, when the first 
application was made to Parliament for the Chester 
and Birkenhead Railway Bill, the promoters were 
defeated. They repeated their application, on the 
understanding that in event of their succeeding, the 
engineer and surveyor were to be paid their costs 
in respect of the defeated measure. The Bill was 
successful, and to several parties their costs were 
paid. Mr. Stephenson's amounted to 800/., and he 
very nobly said, " You have had an expensive career 
in Parliament ; you have had a great struggle ; you 
are a young Company ; you cannot afford to pay me 
this amount of money. I will reduce it to 200/., and 
I will not ask you for that 200/. until your shares 
are at 20/. premium : for whatever may be the 
reverses you will go through, I am satisfied I shall 
live to see the day when your shares will be at 20/. 
premium, and when I can legally and honourably 
claim that 200/." We may add that the shares did 
eventually rise to the premium specified, and the 
engineer was no loser by his generous conduct in 
the transaction. 

Another novelty of the time, with which George 
Stephenson had to contend, was the substitution of 
atmospheric pressure for locomotive steam-power 
in the working of railways. The idea of obtaining 
motion by means of atmospheric pressure is said to 
have originated with Denis Papin, more than 150 
years ago; but it slept until revived in 1810 by 
Mr. Medhurst, who published a pamphlet to prove 


the practicability of carrying letters and goods by 
air. In 1824, Mr. Vallance of Brighton took out a 
patent for projecting passengers through a tube 
large enough to contain a train of carriages; the 
tube being previously exhausted of its atmospheric 
air. The same idea was afterwards taken up, in 
1835, by Mr. Pinkus, an ingenious American. Scien- 
tific gentlemen, Dr. Lardner and Mr. Clegg amongst 
others, advocated the plan ; and an association was 
formed to carry it into effect. Shares were created, 
and 18,000/. raised: and a model apparatus was 
exhibited in London. Mr. Vignolles took his friend 
Stephenson to see the model ; and after carefully 
examining it, he observed emphatically, "// won't 
do : it is only the fixed engines and ropes over again, 
in another form ; and, to tell you the truth, I don't 
think this rope of wind will answer so well as the 
rope of wire did." He did not think the principle 
would stand the test of practice, and he objected 
to the mode of applying the principle. After all, 
it was only a modification of the stationary-engine 
plan ; and every day's experience was proving that 
fixed engines could not compete with locomotives 
in point of efficiency and economy. He stood by 
the locomotive engine ; and subsequent experience 
proved that he was right. 

Messrs. Clegg and Samuda afterwards, in 1840, 
patented their plan of an atmospheric railway ; and 
they publicly tested its working on an unfinished 
portion of the West London Railway. The results 
of the experiment were so satisfactory, that the 
directors of the Dublin and Kingstown line adopted 
it between Kingstown and Dalkey. The London 
and Croydon Company also adopted the atmospheric 
principle; and their line was opened in 1845. The 


ordinary mode of applying the power was to lay 
between the line of rails a pipe, in which a large 
piston was inserted, and attached by a shaft to the 
framework of a carriage. The propelling power 
was the ordinary pressure of the atmosphere acting 
against the piston in the tube on one side, a vacuum 
being created in the tube on the other side of the 
piston by the working of a stationary engine. 
Great was the popularity of the atmospheric system ; 
and still George Stephenson said " It won't do : it's 
but a gimcrack." Engineers of distinction said he 
was prejudiced, and that he looked upon the loco- 
motive as a pet child of his own. " Wait a little," 
he replied, **and you will see that I am right" It 
was generally supposed that the locomotive system 
was about to be snuffed out. ** Not so fast," said 
Stephenson. "Let us wait to see if it will pay." 
He never believed it would. It was ingenious, 
clever, scientific, and all that ; but railways were 
commercial enterprises, not toys; and if the at- 
mospheric railway could not work to a profit, it 
would not do. Considered in this light he even 
went so far as to call it " a great humbug." " Nothing 
will beat the locomotive," said he, "for efficiency 
in all weathers, for economy in drawing loads o{ 
average weight, and for power and speed as occasion 
may require." 

The atmospheric system was fairly and fully 
tried, and it was found wanting. It was admitted 
to be an exceedingly elegant mode of applying 
power; its devices were very skilful, and its 
mechanism was most ingenious. But it was costly, 
irregular in action, and, in particular kinds of 
weather, not to be depended upon. At best, it was 
but a modification of the stationary-engine system. 


and experience proved it to be so expensive that it 
was shortly after entirely abandoned in favour of 
locomotive power.* 

One of the remarkable results of the system of 
railway locomotion which George Stephenson had 
by his persevering labours mainly contributed to 
establish, was the outbreak of the railway mania 
towards the close of his professional career. The 
success of the first main lines of railway naturally 
led to their extension into many new districts ; but 
a strongly speculative tendency soon began to 
display itself, which contained in it the elements 
of great danger. 

The extension of railways had, up to the year 
1844, been mainly effected by men of the commercial 
classes, and the shareholders in them principally 
belonged to the manufacturing districts, — the 
capitalists of the metropolis as yet holding aloof, 
and prophesying disaster to all concerned in railway 
projects. But when the lugubrious anticipations 
of the City men were found to be so entirely falsified 
by the results — when, after the lapse of years, it 
was ascertained that railway traffic rapidly increased 
and dividends steadily improved — a change came 
over the spirit of the London capitalists. They 
then invested largely in railways, the shares in 
which became a leading branch of business on the 

* The question of the specific merits of the atmospheric as 
compared with the fixed engine and locomotive systems, will be 
found fully discussed in Robert Stephenson's able * Report on the 
Atmospheric Railway System,* 1844, in which he gives the result 
of numerous observations and experiments made by him on the 
Kingstown Atmospheric Railway, with the object of ascertaining 
whether the new power would be applicable for the working of 
the Chester and Holyhead Railway, then under construction. His 
opinion was decidedly against the atmospheric system. 


Stock Exchange, and the prices of some rose to 
nearly double their original value. 

A stimulus was thus given to the projection of 
further lines, the shares in most of which came out 
at a premium, and became the subject of immediate 
traffic. A reckless spirit of gambling set in, which 
completely changed the character and objects of 
railway enterprise. The public outside the Stock 
Exchange became also infected, and many persons 
utterly ignorant of railways, knowing and caring 
nothing about their national uses, but hungering 
and thirsting after premiums, rushed eagerly into 
the vortex. They applied for allotments, and 
subscribed for shares in lines, of the engineering 
character or probable traffic of which they knew 
nothing. Provided they could but obtain allotments 
which they could sell at a premium, and put the 
profit— in many cases the only capital they 
possessed* — into their pocket, it was enough for 
them. The mania was not confined to the precincts 
of the Stock Exchange, but infected all ranks. It 
embraced merchants and manufacturers, gentry and 
shopkeepers, clerks in public offices, and loungers 
at the clubs. Noble lords were pointed at as 
" stags " ; there were even clergymen who were 
characterised as " bulls " ; and amiable ladies who 
had the reputation of " bears," in the share markets. 
The few quiet men who remained uninfluenced by 
the speculation of the time were, in not a few cases, 

* The Marquis of Clanricarde brought under the notice of the 
House of Lords, in 1845, that one Charles Guernsey, the son of a 
charwoman, and a clerk in a broker's office, at 12s. a week, had his 
name down as a subscriber for shares in the London and York line, 
for 52,000/. Doubtless he had been made useful for the purpose 
by the brokers, his employers. 


even reproached for doing injustice to their families, 
in declining to help themselves from the stores of 
wealth that were poured out on all sides. 

Folly and knavery were, for a time, completely 
in the ascendant. The sharpers of society were let 
loose, and jobbers and schemers became more and 
more plentiful. They threw out railway schemes 
as lures to catch the unwary. They fed the mania 
with a constant succession of new projects. The 
railway papers became loaded with their advertise- 
ments. The post-office was scarcely able to distribute 
the multitude of prospectuses and circulars which 
they issued. For a time their popularity was im- 
mense. They rose like froth into the upper heights 
of society, and the flunky FitzPlushe, by virtue of 
his supposed wealth, sat amongst peers and was 
idolised. Then was the harvest-time of scheming 
lawyers, parliamentary agents, engineers, surveyors, 
and traffic-takers, who were ready to take up any 
railway scheme however desperate, and to prove 
any amount of traffic even where none existed. The 
traffic in the credulity of their dupes was, however, 
the great fact that mainly concerned them, and of 
the profitable character of which there could be no 

Mr. Stephenson was anxiously entreated to lend 
his name to prospectuses during the railway mania ; 
but he invariably refused. He held aloof from the 
headlong folly of the hour, and endeavoured to 
check it, but in vain. Had he been less scrupulous, 
and given his countenance to the numerous projects 
about which he was consulted, he might, without 
any trouble, have thus secured enormous gains; 
but he had no desire to accumulate a fortune with- 
out labour and without honour. He himself never 


speculated in shares. When he was satisfied as to 
the merits of any undertaking he subscribed for a 
certain amount of capital in it, and held on, neither 
buying nor selling. At a dinner of the Leeds and 
Bradford directors at Ben Rydding in October, 1844, 
before the mania had reached its height, he warned 
those present against the prevalent disposition 
towards railway speculation. It was, he said, like 
walking upon a piece of ice with shallows and 
deeps ; the shallows were frozen over, and they 
would carry, but it required great caution to get 
over the deeps. He was satisfied that in the course 
of the next year many would step on to places not 
strong enough to carry them, and would get into 
the deeps ; they would be taking shares, and after- 
wards be unable to pay the calls upon them. 
Yorkshiremen were reckoned clever men, and his 
advice to them was, to stick together and promote 
communication in their own neighbourhood, — not to 
go abroad with their speculations. If any had done 
so, he advised them to get their money back as fast 
as they could, for if they did not they would not get 
it at all. He informed the company at the same time, 
of his earliest holding of railway shares ; it was in 
the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and the num- 
ber he held was three — " a very large capital for him 
to possess at the time." But a Stockton friend was 
anxious to possess a share, and he sold him one at 
a premium of 335. ; he supposed he had been about 
the first man in England to sell a railway share at 
a premium. 

During 1845, his son's offices in Great George- 
street, Westminster, were crowded with persons of 
various conditions seeking interviews, presenting 
very much the appearance of the levee of a minister 


of State. The burly figure of Mr. Hudson, the 
" Railway King," surrounded by an admiring group 
of followers, was often to be seen there ; and a still 
more interesting person, in the estimation of many, 
was George Stephenson, dressed in black, his coat 
of somewhat old-fashioned cut, with square pockets 
in the tails. He wore a white neckcloth, and a large 
bunch of seals was suspended from his watch-ribbon. 
Altogether, he presented an appearance of health, 
intelligence, and good humour, that rejoiced one 
to look upon in that sordid, selfish and eventually 
ruinous saturnalia of railway speculation. 

Powers were granted by Parliament, in 1845, to 
construct not less than 2883 miles of new railways 
in Britain, at an expenditure of about forty-four 
millions sterling ! Yet the mania was not appeased; 
for in the following session of 1846, applications 
were made to Parliament for powers to raise 
389,000,000/. sterling for the construction of further 
lines ; and powers were actually conceded for 
forming 4790 miles (including 60 miles of tunnels), 
at a cost of about 120,000,000/. sterling. During this 
session, Mr. Stephenson appeared as engineer for 
only one new line, — the Buxton, Macclesfield, Con- 
gleton, and Crewe Railway — a line in which, as a 
coal-owner, he was personally interested ; — and of 
three branch-lines in connexion with existing com- 
panies for which he had long acted as engineer. At 
the same time, all the leading professional men were 
fully occupied, some of them appearing as consult- 
ing engineers for upwards of thirty lines each ! 

One of the features of the mania was the rage for 
** direct lines " which everywhere displayed itself. 
There were ** Direct Manchester," "Direct Exeter," 
" Direct York," and, indeed, new direct lines between 


most of the large towns. The Marquis of Bristol, 
speaking in favour of the " Direct Norwich and 
London " project, at a public meeting at Haverhill, 
said, " If necessary, they might make a tunnel 
beneath his very drawing-room^ rather than be 
defeated in their undertaking!" And the Rev. F. 
Litchfield, at a meeting in Banbury, on the subject 
of a line to that town, said, " He had laid down for 
himself a limit to his approbation of railways — at 
least of such as approached the neighbourhood with 
which he was connected, — and that limit was, that 
he did not wish them to approach any nearer to him 
than to run through his bedroom, with the bedposts for 
a station!'' How different was the spirit which 
influenced these noble lords and gentlemen but a 
few years before ! 

The House of Commons became thoroughly 
influenced by the prevailing excitement. Even the 
Board of Trade began to favour the views of the 
fast school of engineers. In their *' Report on 
the Lines projected in the Manchester and Leeds 
District," they promulgated some remarkable views 
respecting gradients, declaring themselves in favour 
of the " undulating system." They there stated 
that lines of an undulating character "which have 
gradients of i in 70 or i in 80 distributed over them 
in short lengths, may be positively better lines, «>., 
more susceptible of cheap and expeditious working, than 
others which have nothing steeper than i in 100 or 
I in 120 ! " They concluded by reporting in favour 
of the line which exhibited the worst gradients and 
the sharpest curves, chiefly on the ground that it 
could be constructed for less money. 

Sir Robert Peel took occasion to advert to this 
Report in the House of Commons on the 4th of 


March following, as containing " a novel and highly 
important view on the subject of gradients, which, 
he was certain, never could have been taken by any 
Committee of the House of Commons, however in- 
telligent " ; and he might have added, that the more 
intelligent, the less likely they were to arrive at any 
such conclusion. When Mr. Stephenson saw this 
report of the Premieres speech in the newspapers of 
the following morning, he went forthwith to his son, 
and asked him to write a letter to Sir Robert Peel 
on the subject. He saw clearly that if these views 
were adopted, the utility and economy of railways 
would be seriously curtailed. " These members of 
Parliament," said he, " are now as much disposed to 
exaggerate the powers of the locomotive, as they 
were to under-estimate them but a few years ago." 
Robert accordingly wrote a letter for his father's 
signature, embodying the views which he so strongly 
entertained as to the importance of flat gradients, 
and referring to the experiments conducted by him 
many years before, in proof of the great loss of 
working power which was incurred on a line of 
steep as compared with easy gradients. It was clear, 
from the tone of Sir Robert Peel's speech in a 
subsequent debate, that he had carefully read and 
considered Mr. Stephenson's practical observations 
on the subject ; though it did not appear that he had 
come to any definite conclusion thereon, further than 
that he strongly approved of the Trent Valley Rail- 
way, by which Tamworth would be placed upon a 
direct main line of communication. 

The result of the labours of Parliament was a 
tissue of legislative bungling, involving enormous 
loss to the public. Railway Bills were granted in 
heaps. Two hundred and seventy-two additional 

V. 2 A 


Acts were passed in 1846. Some authorised the 
construction of lines running almost parallel to 
existing railways, in order to afford the public 
"the benefits of unrestricted competition." Loco- 
motive and atmospheric lines, broad-gauge and 
narrow-gauge lines, were granted without hesi- 
tation. Committees decided without judgment and 
without discrimination ; it was a scramble for 
Bills, in which the most unscrupulous were the 
most successful. 

Amongst the many ill effects of the mania, one 
of the worst was that it introduced a low tone of 
morality into railway transactions. The bad spirit 
which had been evoked by it unhappily extended 
to the commercial classes, and many of the most 
flagrant swindles of recent times had their origin 
in the year 1845. Those who had suddenly gained 
large sums without labour, and also without honour, 
were too ready to enter upon courses of the wildest 
extravagance; and a false style of living shortly 
arose, the poisonous influence of which extended 
through all classes. Men began to look upon 
railways as instruments to job with. Persons, some- 
times possessing information respecting railways, 
but more frequently possessing none, got upon 
boards for the purpose of promoting their individual 
objects, often in a very unscrupulous manner ; land- 
owners, to promote branch lines through their 
property ; speculators in shares, to trade upon the 
exclusive information which they obtained ; whilst 
some directors were appointed through the influence 
mainly of solicitors, contractors, or engineers, who 
used them as tools to serve their own ends. In this 
way the unfortunate proprietors were, in many 
cases, betrayed, and their property was shamefully 


squandered, much to the discredit of the railway 

While the mania was at its height in England, 
railways were also being extended abroad, and 
George Stephenson was requested on several 
occasions to give the benefit of his advice to the 
directors of foreign undertakings. One of the 
most agreeable of these excursions was to Belgium 
in 1845. His special object was to examine the 
proposed line of the Sambre and Meuse Railway, 
for which a concession had been granted by the 
Belgian legislature. Arrived on the ground, 
he went carefully over the entire length of the 
proposed line, to Couvins, the Forest of Ardennes, 
and Rocroi, across the French frontier ; examining 
the bearings of the coal-field, the slate and marble 
quarries, and the numerous iron-mines in existence 
between the Sambre and the Meuse, as well as 
carefully exploring the ravines which extended 
through the district, in order to satisfy himself 
that the best possible route had been selected. Mr. 
Stephenson was delighted with the novelty of 
the journey, the beauty of the scenery, and the 
industry of the population. His companions were 
entertained by his ample and varied stores of practical 
information on all subjects, and his conversation was 
full of reminiscences of his youth, on which he 
always delighted to dwell when in the society of 
his more intimate friends. The journey was varied 
by a visit to the coal-mines near Jemappe, where 
Stephenson examined with interest the mode 
adopted by the Belgian miners of draining the pits, 
inspecting their engines and brakeing machines, so 
familiar to him in early life. 

The engineers of Belgium took the opportunity 

2 A 2 


of Mr. Stephenson's visit to their country to invite 
him to a magnificent banquet at Brussels. The 
Public Hall, in which they entertained him, was 
gaily decorated with flags, prominent amongst 
which was the Union Jack, in honour of their 
distinguished guest. A handsome marble pedestal, 
ornamented with his bust crowned with laurels, 
occupied one end of the room. The chair was 
occupied by M. Massui, the Chief Director of the 
National Railways of Belgium ; and the most 
eminent scientific men of the kingdom were present. 
Their reception of "the Father of railways" was 
of the most enthusiastic description. Mr. Stephen- 
son was greatly pleased with the entertainment. 
Not the least interesting incident of the evening 
was his observing, when the dinner was about half 
over, a model of a locomotive engine placed upon 
the centre table, under a triumphal arch. Turning 
suddenly to his friend Sopwith, he exclaimed, " Do 
you see the * Rocket ' ? " The compliment thus 
paid him was perhaps more prized than all the 
encomiums of the evening. 

The next day (April sth) King Leopold invited 
him to a private interview at the palace. Accom- 
panied by Mr. Sopwith, he proceeded to Laaken, 
and was very cordially received by his Majesty. 
The King immediately entered into familiar conver- 
sation with him, discussing the railway project which 
had been the object of his visit to Belgium, and then 
the structure of the Belgian coal-fields, — his Majesty 
expressing his sense of the great importance of 
economy in a fuel which had become indispensable 
to the comfort and well-being of society, which 
was the basis of all manufactures, and the vital 
power of railway locomotion. The subject was 


always a favourite one with Mr. Stephenson, and, 
encouraged by the king, he proceeded to describe 
to him the geological structure of Belgium, the 
original formation of coal, its subsequent elevation 
by volcanic forces, and the vast amount of denuda- 
tion. In describing the coal-beds he used his hat 
as a sort of model to illustrate his meaning ; and 
the eyes of the king were fixed upon it as he 
proceeded with his interesting description. The 
conversation then passed to the rise and progress 
of trade and manufactures, — Mr. Stephenson point- 
ing out how closely they everywhere followed the 
coal, being mainly dependent upon it as it were for 
their very existence. 

The king seemed greatly pleased with the inter- 
view, and at its close expressed himself obliged by 
the interesting information which the engineer had 
communicated. Shaking hands cordially with both 
the gentlemen, and wishing them success in their 
important undertakings, he bade them adieu. As 
they were leaving the palace Mr. Stephenson, 
bethinking him of the model by which he had just 
been illustrating the Belgian coal-fields, said to 
his friend, " By the bye, Sopwith, I was afraid the 
king would see the inside of my hat ; it's a shocking 
bad one ! " Little could George Stephenson, when 
brakesman at a coal-pit, have dreamt that, in the 
course of his life, he should be admitted to an 
interview with a monarch, and describe to him the 
manner in which the geological foundations of his 
kingdom had been laid ! 

Mr. Stephenson paid a second visit to Belgium 
in the course of the same year, on the business of 
the West Flanders Railway; and he had scarcely 
returned from it ere he made arrangements to 


proceed to Spain, for the purpose of examining and 
reporting upon a scheme then on foot for construct- 
ing "the Royal North of Spain Railway." A 
concession had been made by the Spanish Govern- 
ment of a line of railway from Madrid to the Bay 
of Biscay, and a numerous staff of engineers was 
engaged in surveying it The directors of the 
Company had declined making the necessary- 
deposits until more favourable terms had been 
secured ; and Sir Joshua Walmsley, on their part, 
was about to visit Spain and press the Government 
on the subject. Mr. Stephenson, whom he con- 
sulted, was alive to the difficulties of the office 
which Sir Joshua was induced to undertake, and 
offered to be his companion and adviser on the 
occasion, — declining to receive any recompense 
beyond the simple expenses of the journey. He 
could only arrange to be absent for six weeks, 
and set out from England about the middle of Sep- 
tember, 1845. 

The party was joined at Paris by Mr. Mackenzie, 
the contractor for the Orleans and Tours Railway, 
then in course of construction, who took them 
over the works, and accompanied them as far as 
Tours. They soon reached the great chain of 
the Pyrenees, and crossed over into Spain. It 
was on a Sunday evening, after a long day's toil- 
some journey through the mountains, that the 
party suddenly found themselves in one of those 
beautiful secluded valleys lying amidst the Western 
Pyrenees. A small hamlet lay before them consist- 
ing of some* thirty or forty houses and a fine old 
church. The sun was low on the horizon, and, 
under the wide porch, beneath the shadow of the 
church, were seated nearly all the inhabitants 


of the place. They were dressed in their holiday 
attire. The bright bits of red and amber colour 
in the dresses of the women, and the gay sashes 
of the men, formed a striking picture, on which 
the travellers gazed in silent admiration. It was 
something entirely novel and unexpected. Beside 
the villagers sat two venerable old men, whose 
canonical hats indicated their quality as village 
pastors. Two groups of young women and chil- 
dren were dancing outside the porch to the accom- 
paniment of a simple pipe ; and within a hundred 
yards of them, some of the youths of the village 
were disporting themselves in athletic exercises; 
the whole being carried on beneath the fostering 
care of the old church, and with the sanction 
of its ministers. It was a beautiful scene, and 
deeply moved the travellers as they approached 
the principal group. The villagers greeted them 
courteously, supplied their present wants, and 
pressed upon them some fine melons, brought 
from their adjoining gardens. Mr. Stephenson 
used afterwards to look back upon that simple 
scene, and speak of it as one of the most charming 
pastorals he had ever witnessed. 

They shortly reached the site of the proposed 
railway, passing through Irun, St. Sebastian, St. 
Andero, and Bilbao, at which places they met 
deputations of the principal inhabitants who were 
interested in the subject of their journey. At 
Raynosa Stephenson carefully examined the 
mountain passes and ravines through which a 
railway could be made. He rose at break of 
day, and surveyed until the darkness set in ; and 
frequently his resting-place at night was the floor 
of some miserable hovel He was thus laboriously 


occupied for ten days, after which he proceeded 
across the province of Old Castile towards Madrid, 
surveying as he went. The proposed plan included 
the purchase of the Castile Canal ; and that property 
was also surveyed. He next proceeded to El Escorial, 
situated at the foot of the Guadarama mountains, 
through which he found that it would be necessary 
to construct two formidable tunnels ; added to which 
he ascertained that the country between El Escorial 
and Madrid was of a very difficult and expensive 
character to work through. Taking these circum- 
stances into account, and looking at the expected 
traffic on the proposed line, Sir Joshua Walmsley, 
acting under the advice of Mr. Stephenson, offered 
to construct the line from Madrid to the Bay of 
Biscay, only on condition that the requisite land 
was given the Company for the purpose ; that they 
should be allowed every facility for cutting such 
timber belonging to the Crown as might be required 
for the purposes of the railway ; and also that the 
materials required from abroad for the construction 
of the line should be admitted free of duty. In 
return for these concessions the Company offered 
to clothe and feed several thousands of convicts 
while engaged in the execution of the earthworks. 
General Narvaez, afterwards Duke of Valencia, 
received Sir Joshua Walmsley and Mr. Stephenson 
on the subject of their proposition, and expressed 
his willingness to close with them ; but it was 
necessary that other influential parties should give 
their concurrence before the scheme could be carried 
into effect. The deputation waited ten days to 
receive the answer of the Spanish Government ; but 
no answer of any kind was vouchsafed. The 
authorities, indeed, invited them to be present at 


a Spanish bull-fight, but that was not quite the 
business Mr. Stephenson had gone all the way to 
Spain to transact ; and the offer was politely declined. 
The result was, that Mr. Stephenson dissuaded 
his friend from making the necessary deposit at 
Madrid. Besides, he had by this time formed an 
unfavourable opinion of the entire project, and 
considered that the traffic would not amount to 
one-eighth of the estimate. 

Mr. Stephenson was now anxious to be in 
England. During the journey from Madrid he often 
spoke with affection of friends and relatives ; and 
when apparently absorbed by other matters, he 
would revert to what he thought might then be 
passing at home. Few incidents worthy of notice 
occurred on the journey homeward, but one may be 
mentioned. While travelling in an open conveyance 
between Madrid and Vittoria, the driver urged his 
mules down hill at a dangerous pace. He was 
requested to slacken speed; but suspecting his 
passengers to be afraid, he only flogged the brutes 
into a still more furious gallop. Observing this, 
Mr. Stephenson coolly said, " Let us try him on 
the other tack ; tell him to show us the fastest pace 
at which Spanish mules can go." The rogue of a 
driver, when he found his tricks of no avail, pulled 
up and proceeded at a more moderate speed for the 
rest of the journey. 

Urgent business required Mr. Stephenson's 
presence in London on the last day of November. 
They travelled, therefore, almost continuously, day 
and night ; and the fatigue consequent on the 
journey, added to the privations voluntarily endured 
by the engineer while carrying on the survey among 
the Spanish mountains, began to tell seriously on 


his health. By the time he reached Paris he was 
evidently ill, but he nevertheless determined on 
proceeding. He reached Havre in time for the 
Southampton boat ; but when on board, pleurisy 
developed itself, and it was necessary to bleed him 
freely. During the voyage, he spent his time 
chiefly in dictating letters and reports to Sir Joshua 
Walmsley, who never left him, and whose kindness 
on the occasion he gratefully remembered. His 
friend was struck by the clearness of his dictated 
composition, which exhibited a vigour and condensa- 
tion which to him seemed marvellous. After a few 
weeks* rest at home, Mr. Stephenson gradually 
recovered, though his health remained severely 

Newcastle, from the High Level Bridge. 





The career of George Stephenson was drawing to a 
close. He had for some time been gradually retiring 
from the more active pursuit of railway engineering, 
and confining himself to the promotion of only a few 
undertakings in which he took a more than ordinary 
personal interest. In 1840, when the extensive main 
lines in the Midland districts had been finished and 
opened for traffic, he publicly expressed his inten- 
tion of withdrawing from the profession. He had 
reached sixty, and, having spent the greater part of 
his life in very hard work, he naturally de$ired re$t 


and retirement in his old age. There was the less 
necessity for his continuing " in harness," as Robert 
Stephenson was now in full career as a leading rail- 
way engineer, and his father had pleasure in handing 
over to him, with the sanction of the companies con- 
cerned, nearly all the railway appointments which 
he held. 

Robert Stephenson amply repaid his father's 
care. The sound education of which he had laid 
the foundations at school, improved by his subse- 
quent culture, but more than all by his father's 
example of application, industry, and thoroughness 
in all that he undertook, told powerfully in the 
formation of his character, not less than in the disci- 
pline of his intellect. His father had early implanted 
in him habits of mental activity, familiarized him 
with the laws of mechanics, and carefully trained 
and stimulated his inventive faculties, the first great 
fruits of which, as we have seen, were exhibited in 
the triumph of the "Rocket" at Rainhill. "I am 
fully conscious in my own mind," said the son at a 
meeting of the Mechanical Engineers at Newcastle, 
in 1858, "how greatly my civil engineering has been 
regulated and influenced by the mechanical know- 
ledge which I derived directly from my father ; and 
the more my experience has advanced, the more 
convinced I have become that it is necessary to 
educate an engineer in the workshop. That is, 
emphatically, the education which will render the 
engineer most intelligent, most useful, and the fullest 
of resources in times of difficulty." 

Robert Stephenson was but twenty-six years old 
when the performances of the " Rocket " established 
the practicability of steam locomotion on railways 
He was shortly after appointed engineer of the 


Leicester and Swannington Railway; after which, 
at his father's request, he was made joint engineer 
with himself in laying out the London and Birming- 
ham Railway, and the execution of that line was 
afterwards entrusted to him as sole engineer. The 
stability and excellence of the works of that railway, 
the difficulties which had been successfully overcome 
in the course of its construction, and the judgment 
which was displayed by Robert Stephenson through- 
out the whole conduct of the undertaking to its 
completion, established his reputation as an en- 
gineer; and his father could now look with con- 
fidence and with pride upon his son's achievements. 
From that time forward, father and son worked 
together as one man, each jealous of the other's 
honour ; and on the father's retirement, it was gene- 
rally recognized that, in the sphere of railways, 
Robert Stephenson was the foremost man, the 
safest guide, and the most active worker. 

Robert Stephenson was subsequently appointed 
engineer of the Eastern Counties, the Northern and 
Eastern, and the Blackwall railways, besides many 
lines in the midland and southern districts. When 
the speculation of 1844 set in, his services were, of 
course, greatly in request. Thus, in one session, we 
find him engaged as engineer for not fewer than 33 
new schemes. Projectors thought themselves for- 
tunate who could secure his name, and he had only 
to propose his terms to obtain them. The work 
which he performed at this period of his life was 
mdeed enormous, and his income was large beyond 
any previous instance of engineering gain. But 
much of his labour was heavy hackwork of a very 
uninteresting character. During the sittings of the 
committees of Parliament, almost every moment of 


his time was occupied in consultations, and in 
preparing evidence or in giving it. The crowded, 
low-roofed committee-rooms of the old Houses 
of Parliament were altogether inadequate to accom- 
modate the rush of perspiring projectors of bills, 
and even the lobbies were sometimes choked with 
them. To have borne that noisome atmosphere and 
heat would have tested the constitutions of salaman- 
ders, and engineers were only human. With brains 
kept in a state of excitement during the entire day, 
no wonder their nervous systems became unstrung. 
Their only chance of refreshment was during an 
occasional rush to the bun and sandwich stand in 
the lobby, though sometimes even that resource 
failed them. Then, with mind and body jaded — 
probably after undergoing a series of consultations 
upon many bills after the rising of the committees — 
the exhausted engineers would seek to stimulate 
nature by a late, perhaps a heavy, dinner. What 
chance had any ordinary constitution of surviving 
such an ordeal ? The consequence was, that stomach, 
brain, and liver were alike irretrievably injured ; and 
hence the men who bore the brunt of those struggles 
— Stephenson, Brunei, Locke, and Errington — have 
already all died, comparatively young men. 

In mentioning the name of Brunei, we are 
reminded of him as the principal rival and com- 
petitor of Robert Stephenson. Both were the sons 
of distinguished men, and both inherited the fame 
and followed in the footsteps of their fathers. The 
Stephensons were inventive, practical, and saga- 
cious; the Brunels ingenious, imaginative, and 
daring. The former were as thoroughly English in 
their characteristics as the latter were perhaps as 
thoroughly French. The fathers and the sons were 


alike successful in their works, though not in the 
same degree. Measured by practical and profitable 
results, the Stephensons were unquestionably the 
safer men to follow. 

Robert Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Bru- 
nei were destined often to come into collision in the 
course of their professional life. Their respective 
railway districts " marched " with each other, and it 
became their business to invade or defend those 
districts, according as the policy of their respective 
boards might direct. The gauge of 7 feet fixed by 
Mr. Brunei for the Great Western Railway, so 
entirely different from that of 4 ft. 8J in. adopted by 
the Stephensons on the Northern and Midland lines, 
was from the first a great cause of contention. But 
Mr. Brunei had always an aversion to follow any 
man's lead ; and that another engineer had fixed the 
gauge of a railway, or built a bridge, or designed an 
engine, in one way, was of itself often a sufficient 
reason with him for adopting an altogether different 
course. Robert Stephenson, on his part, though less 
bold, was more practical, preferring to follow the old 
routes, and to tread in the safe steps of his father. 

Mr. Brunei, however, determined that the Great 
Western should be a giant's road, and that travel- 
ling should be conducted upon it at double speed. 
His ambition was to make the best road that imagin- 
ation could devise ; whereas the main object of the 
Stephensons, both father and son, was to make a 
road that would pay. Although tried by the Stephen- 
son test, Brunei's magnificent road was a failure so 
far as the shareholders in the Great Western Com- 
pany were concerned, the stimulus which his am- 
bitious designs gave to mechanical invention at the 
time proved a general good. The narrow-gauge 


engineers exerted themselves to quicken their loco- 
motives to the utmost. They improved and re- 
improved them ; the machinery was simplified and 
perfected ; outside cylinders gave place to inside ; 
the steadier and more rapid and effective action of 
the engine was secured ; and in a few years the 
highest speed on the narrow-gauge lines went up 
from 30 to about 50 miles an hour. For this rapidity 
of progress we are in no small degree indebted to 
the stimulus imparted to the narrow-gauge engineers 
by Mr. Brunei. And it is well for a country that it 
should possess men such as he, ready to dare the 
untried, and to venture boldly into new paths. In- 
dividuals may suffer from the cost of the experiments ; 
but the nation, which is an aggregate of individuals, 
gains, and so does the world at large. 

It was one of the characteristics of Brunei to 
believe in the success of the schemes for which 
he was professionally engaged as engineer ; and he 
proved this by investing his savings largely in the 
Great Western Railway, in the South Devon at-? 
mospheric line, and in the Great Eastern steamship, 
with what results are well known. Robert Stephen- 
son, on the contrary, with characteristic caution, 
towards the latter years of his life avoided holding 
unguaranteed railway shares ; and though he might 
execute magnificent structures, such as the Victoria 
Bridge across the St. Lawrence, he was careful not 
to embark any portion of his own fortune in the 
ordinary capital of these concerns. In 1845 he 
shrewdly foresaw the inevitable crash that was 
about to follow the mania of that year ; and while 
shares were still at a premium he took the oppor- 
tunity of selling out all that he had. He urged his 
father to do the same thing, but George's reply was 


characteristic. " No," said he ; "I took my shares 
for an investment, and not to speculate with, and 
I am not going to sell them now because folks have 
gone mad about railways." The consequence was, 
that he continued to hold the 60,000/. which he had 
invested in the shares of various railways until his 
death, when they were at once sold out by his son, 
though at a great depreciation on their original cost. 

One of the hardest battles fought between the 
Stephensons and Brunei was for the railway between 
Newcastle and Berwick, forming part of the g^eat 
East Coast route to Scotland. As early as 1836, 
George Stephenson had surveyed two lines to 
connect Edinburgh with Newcastle : one by Berwick 
and Dunbar along the coast, and the other, more 
inland, by Carter Fell, up the vale of the Gala, to the 
northern capital ; but both projects lay dormant for 
several years longer, until the completion of the 
Midland and other main lines as far north as New- 
castle, had the effect of again reviving the subject 
of the extension of the route as far as Edinburgh. 

On the 1 8th of June, 1844, the Newcastle and 
Darlington line — an important link of the great main 
highway to the north — was completed and publicly 
opened, thus connecting the Thames and the Tyne 
by a continuous line of railway. On that day the 
Stephensons, with a distinguished party of railway 
men, travelled by express train from London to 
Newcastle in about nine hours. It was a great 
event, and was worthily celebrated. The population 
of Newcastle held holiday ; and a banquet given in 
the Assembly Rooms the same evening assumed the 
form of an ovation to George Stephenson and his 
son. Thirty years before, in the capacity of a work- 
man, he had been labouring at the construction 
V. 2 B 


of his first locomotive in the immediate neighbour- 
hood. By slow and laborious steps he had worked 
his way on, dragging the locomotive into notice, and 
raising himself in public estimation ; until at length 
he had victoriously established the railway system, 
and went back amongst his townsmen to receive 
their greeting. 

After the opening of this railway, the project 
of the East Coast line from Newcastle to Berwick 
was revived ; and George Stephenson, who had 
already identified himself with the question, and was 
intimately acquainted with every foot of the ground, 
was called upon to assist the promoters with his 
judgment and experience. He again recommended 
as strongly as before the line he had previously 
surveyed ; and on its being adopted by the local 
committee, the necessary steps were taken to have 
the scheme brought before ParHament in the ensuing 
session. The East Coast line was not, however, 
to be allowed to pass without a fight. On the 
contrary, it had to encounter as stout an opposition 
as the Stephensons had ever experienced. 

We have already stated that about this time the 
plan of substituting atmospheric pressure for loco- 
motive steam-power in the working of railways, had 
become very popular. Many eminent engineers 
supported the atmospheric system, and a strong 
party in Parliament, headed by the Prime Minister, 
were greatly disposed in its favour. Mr. Brunei 
warmly espoused the atmospheric principle, and his 
persuasive manner, as well as his admitted scientific 
ability, unquestionably exercised considerable in- 
fluence in determining the views of many leading 
members of both Houses. Amongst others. Lord 
Howick, one of the members for Northumberland, 


adopted the new principle, and, possessing great 
local influence, he succeeded in forming a powerful 
confederacy of the landed gentry in favour of 
BruneFs atmospheric railway through that county. 

George Stephenson could not brook the idea 
of seeing the locomotive, for which he had fought 
so many stout battles, pushed to one side, and that 
in the very county in which its great powers had 
been first developed. Nor did he relish the appear- 
ance of Mr. Brunei as the engineer of Lord Howick's 
scheme, in opposition to the line which had occupied 
his thoughts and been the object of his strenuous 
advocacy for so many years. When Stephenson 
first met Brunei in Newcastle, he good-naturedly 
shook him by the collar, and asked ** What business 
he had north of the Tyne ? " George gave him to 
understand that they were to have a fair stand-up 
fight for the ground, and, shaking hands before the 
battle like Englishmen, they parted in good humour. 
A public meeting was held at Newcastle in the 
following December, when, after a full discussion 
of the merits of the respective plans, Stephenson's 
line was almost unanimously adopted as the best. 

The rival projects went before Parliament in 
1845, and a severe contest ensued. The display 
of ability and tactics on both sides was great. 
Robert Stephenson was examined at great length 
as to the merits of the locomotive line, and Brunei 
at equally great length as to the merits of the atmos- 
pheric system. Mr. Brunei, in his evidence, said 
that after numerous experiments, he had arrived at 
the conclusion that the mechanical contrivance of the 
atmospheric system was perfectly applicable, and he 
believed that it would likewise be more economical 
in most cases than locomotive power. ** In short," 

2 B 2 


said he," rapidity, comfort, safety, and economy, are 
its chief recommendations." 

But the locomotive again triumphed. The 
Stephenson Coast Line secured the approval of 
Parliament; and the shareholders in the Atmos- 
pheric Company were happily prevented investing 
their capital in what would unquestionably have 
proved a gigantic blunder. For, less than three 
years later, the whole of the atmospheric tubes which 
had been laid down on other lines were pulled up 
and the materials sold — including Mr. Brunei's 
immense tube on the South Devon Railway — to 
make way for the working of the locomotive engine. 
George Stephenson's first verdict of ** It won't do," 
was thus conclusively confirmed. 

Robert Stephenson used afterwards to describe 
with great gusto an interview which took place 
between Lord Howick and his father, at his oflSce 
in Great George Street, during the progress of 
the bill in Parliament. His father was in the outer 
office, where he used to spend a good deal of his 
spare time ; occasionally taking a quiet wrestle 
with a friend when nothing else was stirring.* On 
the day in question, George was standing with his 
back to the fire, when Lord Howick called to see 
Robert. Oh ! thought George, he has come to try 
and talk Robert over about that atmospheric 

* " When my father came about the office," said Robert, " he 
sometimes did not well know what to do with himself. So he used 
to invite Bidder to have a wrestle with him, for old acquaintance' 
sake. And the two wrestled together so often, and had so many 
' falls ' (sometimes I thought they would bring the house down 
between them), that they broke half the chairs in my outer office. 
I remember once sending my father ia a joiner's bill of about 
2/. lOf. for mending broken chairs.'' 


gimcrack ; but V\l tackle his Lordship. " Come in, 
my Lord," said he, " Robert's busy ; but Til answer 
your purpose quite as well ; sit down here, if you 
please." George began, " Now, my Lord, I know 
very well what you have come about: it*s that 
atmospheric line in the north; I will show you 
in less than five minutes that it can never answer." 
** If Mr. Robert Stephenson is not at liberty, I can call 
again," said his Lordship. " He's certainly occupied 
on important business just at present," was George's 
answer ; " but I can tell you far better than he can 
what nonsense the atmospheric system is : Robert's 
good-natured, you see, and if your Lordship were 
to get alongside of him you might talk him over; 
so you have been quite lucky in meeting with me. 
Now, just look at the question of expense," — and then 
he proceeded in his strong Doric to explain his views 
in detail, until Lord Howick could stand it no 
longer, and he rose and walked towards the door. 
George followed him down stairs, to finish his 
demolition of the atmospheric system, and his 
parting words were, " You may take my word for 
it, my Lord, it will never answer." George after- 
wards told his son with glee of " the settler " he had 
given Lord Howick. 

So closely were the Stephensons identified with 
this measure, and so great was the personal interest 
which they were both known to take in its success, 
that, on the news of the triumph of the bill reaching 
Newcastle, a sort of general holiday took place, and 
the workmen belonging to the Stephenson Loco- 
motive Factory, upwards of 800 in number, walked 
in procession through the principal streets of the 
town, accompanied with music and banners. 

It is unnecessary to enter into any description 


of the works on the Newcastle and Berwick 
Railway. There are no fewer than no bridges of 
all sorts on the line — some under and some over it. 
But by far the most formidable piece of masonry 
work on this railway is at its northern extremity, 
where it passes across the Tweed into Scotland, 
immediately opposite the formerly redoubtable 
castle of Berwick. Not many centuries had passed 
since the district amidst which this bridge stands 
was the scene of almost constant warfare. Berwick 
was regarded as the key of Scotland, and w^as 
fiercely fought for, sometimes held by a Scotch and 
sometimes by an English garrison. Though strong-ly 
fortified, it was repeatedly taken by assault. On 
its capture by Edward I., Boetius says 17,000 
persons were slain, so that its streets "ran with 
blood like a river." Within sight of the ramparts, 
a little to the west, is Halidon Hill, where a famous 
victory was gained by Edward III., over the Scot- 
tish army under Douglas ; and there is scarcely 
a foot of ground in the neighbourhood but has 
been the scene of contention in days long past. 
In the reigns of James I. and Charles I., a bridge of 
15 arches was built across the Tweed at Berwick; 
and in our own day a railway-bridge of 28 arches 
has been built a little above the old one, but at a 
much higher level. The bridge built by the Kings, 
out of the national resources, cost 15,000/., and 
occupied 24 years and 4 months in the building ; 
the bridge built by the Railway Company, with 
funds drawn from private resources, cost 120,000/., 
and was finished in 3 years and 4 months from the 
day of laying the foundation-stone. 

This important viaduct, built after the design of 
Robert Stephenson, consists of a series of 28 semi- 


r^^^" , — ^ ----- ' 


The Royal Border Bridge, Berwick-upon-Tweed. £By R. P. Leitch.] 


circular arches, each 6i feet 6 inches in span, the 
greatest height above the bed of the river being 126 
feet. The whole is built of ashlar, with a hearting 
of rubble ; excepting the river parts of the arches, 
which are constructed with bricks laid in cement. 
The total length of the work is 2160 feet The 
foundations of the piers were got in by coffer-dams 
in the ordinary way, Nasmyth's steam-hammer 
being extensively used in driving the piles. The 
bearing piles, from which the foundations of the 
piers were built up, were each capable of carrying 
70 tons. 

Another bridge, of still greater importance, 
necessary to complete the continuity of the East 
Coast route, was the masterwork erected by Robert 
Stephenson between the north and south banks 
of the Tyne at Newcastle, commonly known as the 
High Level Bridge. Mr. R. W. Brandling, George 
Stephenson's early friend, is entitled to the merit 
of originating the idea of this bridge as it was 
eventually carried out, with the central terminus 
for the northern railways in the Castle Garth. The 
plan was first promulgated by him in 1841 ; and in 
the following year it was resolved that George 
Stephenson should be consulted as to the most 
advisable site for the proposed structure. A pros- 
pectus of a High Level Bridge Company was issued 
in 1843, the names of George Stephenson and 
George Hudson appearing on the committee of 
management, Robert Stephenson being the con- 
sulting engineer. The project was eventually 
taken up by the Newcastle and Darlington 
Railway Company, and an Act for the construction 
of the bridge was obtained in 1845. 

The rapid extension of railways had given an 


extraordinary stimulus to the art of bridge-building ; 
the number of such structures erected in Great 
Britain alone, since 1830, having been above 25,000, 
or more than all that had before existed in the 
country. Instead of the erection of a single large 
bridge constituting, as formerly, an epoch in en- 
gineering, hundreds of extensive bridges of novel 
design were simultaneously constructed. The 
necessity which existed for carrying rigid roads, 
capable of bearing heavy railway trains at high 
speeds, over extensive gaps free of support, rendered 
it obvious that the methods which had up to that 
time been employed for bridging space were 
altogether insufficient. The railway engineer could 
not, like the ordinary road engineer, divert his road, 
and make choice of the best point for crossing a 
river or a valley. He must take such ground as 
lay in the line of his railway, be it bog, or mud, 
or shifting sand. Navigable rivers and crowded 
thoroughfares had to be crossed without interrup- 
tion to the existing traffic, sometimes by bridges 
at right angles to the river or road, sometimes by 
arches more or less oblique. In many cases great 
difficulty arose from the limited nature of the head- 
way; but, as the level of the original road must 
generally be preserved, and that of the railway was 
in a measure fixed and determined, it was necessary 
to modify the form and structure of the bridge, in 
almost every case, in order to comply with the 
public requirements. Novel conditions were met 
by fresh inventions, and difficulties of the most 
unusual character were one after another successfully 
surmounted. In executing these extraordinary 
works, iron has been throughout the sheet-anchor 
of the engineer. In its different forms of cast or 


wrought iron, it offered a valuable resource, ^vhere 
rapidity of execution, great strength, and cheapness 
of construction in the first instance, were elements 
of prime importance; and by its skilful use, the 
railway architect was enabled to achieve results 
which thirty years ago would scarcely have been 
thought possible. 

In many of the early cast-iron bridges the old 
form of the arch was adopted, the stability of the 
structure depending wholly on compression, the 
only novel feature being the use of iron instead of 
stone. But in a large proportion of cases, the arch, 
with the railroad over it, was found inapplicable in 
consequence of the limited headway which it pro- 
vided. Hence it early occurred to George Stephen- 
son, when constructing the Liverpool and Manchester 
Railway, to adopt the simple cast-iron beam for the 
crossing of several roads and canals along that line 
— this beam resembling in some measure the lintel 
of the early temples — the pressure on the abutments 
being purely vertical. One of the earliest instances 
of this kind of bridge was that erected over Water 
Street, Manchester, in 1829; after which, cast-iron 
girders, with their lower webs considerably larger 
than their upper, were ordinarily employed where 
the span was moderate ; and wrought-iron tie rods 
below were added to give increased strength where 
the span was greater. 

The next step was the contrivance of arched 
beams or bowstring girders, firmly held together 
by horizontal ties to resist the thrust, instead of 
abutments. Numerous excellent specimens of 
this description of bridge were erected by Robert 
Stephenson on the original London and Birmingham 
Railway ; but by far the grandest work of the kind 


— perfect as a specimen of modern constructive 
skill — ^was the High Level Bridge, which we owe to 
the genius of the same engineer. 

The problem was to throw a railway bridge 
across the deep ravine which lies between the 
towns of Newcastle and Gateshead, at the bottom 
of which flows the navigable river Tyne. Along 
and up the sides of the valley— on the Newcastle 
bank especially — run streets of old-fashioned houses, 
clustered together in the strange forms peculiar to 
the older cities. The ravine is of great depth — so 
deep and so gloomy-looking towards dusk, that 
local tradition records that when the Duke of 
Cumberland arrived late in the evening at the brow 
of the hill overlooking the Tyne, on his way to 
CuUoden, he exclaimed to his attendants, on looking 
down into the black gorge before him, ''For God's 
sake, don't think of taking me down that coal-pit at 
this time of night ! " The road down the Gateshead 
High Street is almost as steep as the roof of a house, 
and up the Newcastle Side, as the street there is 
called, it is little better. During many centuries the 
traffic north and south passed along this dangerous 
and difficult route, over the old bridge which crosses 
the river in the bottom of the valley. For about 
30 years the Newcastle Corporation had discussed 
various methods of improving the communication 
between the towns ; and the discussion might have 
gone on for 30 years more, but for the advent of 
railways, when the skill and enterprise to which 
they gave birth speedily solved the difficulty and 
bridged the ravine. The local authorities adroitly 
took advantage of the opportunity, and insisted on 
the provision of a road for ordinary vehicles and 
foot passengers in addition to the railroad. In this 


circumstance originated one of the striking pecu- 
liarities of the High Level Bridge, which ser\'es 
two purposes, being a railway above and a carriage 
roadway underneath. 

The breadth of the river at the point of crossing 
is 515 feet, but the length of the bridge and viaduct 
between the Gateshead station and the terminus 
on the Newcastle side is about 4000 feet. It springs 
from Pipewell Gate Bank, on the south, directly 
across to Castle Garth, where, nearly fronting the 
bridge, stands the fine old Norman keep of the 
New Castle, now nearly 800 years old, and a little 
beyond it is the spire of St. Nicholas Church, with 
its light and graceful Gothic crown; the w^hole 
forming a grand architectural group of unusual 
historic interest. The bridge passes completely 
over the roofs of the houses which fill both sides 
of the valley ; and the extraordinary height of the 
upper parapet, which is about 130 feet above the 
bed of the river, offers a prospect to the passing 
traveller, the like of which is perhaps nowhere else 
to be seen. Far below are the queer chares and 
closes, the wynds and lanes of old Newcastle ; the 
water is crowded with pudgy, black, coal keels; 
and, when there is a partial dispersion of the great 
smoke clouds which usually obscure the sky, the 
funnels of steamers and the masts of shipping may 
be seen far down the river. The old bridge lies 
so far beneath that the passengers crossing it seem 
like so many bees passing to and fro. 

The first difficulty encountered in building the 
bridge was in securing a solid foundation for the 
piers. The dimensions of the piles to be driven 
were so huge, that the engineer found it necessary 
to employ some extraordinary means for the pur- 


pose. He called Nasmyth's Titanic steam-hammer 
to his aid — the first occasion, we believe, on which 
this prodigious power was employed in bridge pile- 
driving. A temporary staging was erected for the 
steam-engine and hammer apparatus, which rested 
on two keels, and, notwithstanding the newness and 
stiffness of the machinery, the first pile was driven 
on the 6th October, 1846, to a depth of 32 feet in 
four minutes. Two hammers of 30 cwt. each were 
kept in regular use, making from 60 to 70 strokes a 
minute; and the results were astounding to those 
who had been accustomed to the old style of pile- 
driving by means of the ordinary pile-frame, con- 
sisting of slide, ram, and monkey. By the old 
system, the pile was driven by a comparatively 
small mass of iron descending with great velocity 
from a considerable height — the velocity being in 
excess and the mass deficient, and calculated, like the 
momentum of a cannon-ball, rather for destructive 
than impulsive action. In the case of the steam 
pile-driver, on the contrary, the whole weight of a 
heavy mass is delivered rapidly upon a driving- 
block of several tons weight placed directly over the 
head of the pile, the weight never ceasing, and the 
blows being repeated at the rate of a blow a second, 
until the pile is driven home. It is a curious fact, 
that the rapid strokes of the steam-hammer evolved 
so much heat, that on many occasions the pile-head 
burst into flames during the process of driving. 
The elastic force of steam is the power that lifts the 
ram, the escape permitting its entire force to fall 
upon the head of the driving-block; while the steam 
above the piston on the upper part of the C3^1inder, 
acting as a buffer or recoil-spring, materially enhances 
the effect of the downward blow. As soon as one 


pile was driven, the traveller, hovering overhead, 
presented another, and down it went into the solid 
bed of the river, with almost as much ease as a lady 
sticks pins into a cushion. By the aid of this 
powerful machine, pile-driving, formerly among the 
most costly and tedious of engineering operations, 
became easy, rapid, and comparatively economical. 

When the piles had been driven and the coffer- 
dams formed and puddled, the water within the 
enclosed spaces was pumped out by the aid of 
powerful engines, so as, if possible, to lay bare the 
bed of the river. Considerable difficulty was expe- 
rienced in getting in the foundations of the middle 
pier, in consequence of the water forcing itself 
through the quicksand beneath as fast as it was 
removed. This fruitless labour went on for months, 
and many expedients were tried. Chalk was thrown 
in in large quantities outside the piling, but without 
effect. Cement concrete was at last put within the 
coffer-dam, until it set, and the bottom was then 
found to be secure. A bed of concrete was laid up 
to the level of the heads of the piles, the foundation 
course of stone blocks being commenced about two 
feet below low water, and the building proceeded 
without further difficulty. It may serve to give an 
idea of the magnitude of the work, when we state 
that 400,000 cubic feet of ashlar, rubble, and concrete 
were worked up in the piers, and 450,000 cubic feet 
in the land-arches and approaches. 

The most novel feature of the structure is the 
use of cast and wrought iron in forming the double 
bridge, which admirably combines the two principles 
of the arch and suspension ; the railway being carried 
over the back of the ribbed arches in the usual 
manner, while the carriage-road and footpaths. 












forming a long gallery or aisle, are suspended from 
these arches by wrought-iron vertical rods, with hori- 
zontal tie-bars to resist the thrust. The suspension- 
bolts are enclosed within spandril pillars of cast 
iron, which give g^eat stiffness to the superstructure. 
This system of longitudinal and vertical bracing has 
been much admired, for it not only accomplishes the 
primary object of securing rigidity in the roadway, 
but at the same time, by its graceful arrangement, 
heightens the beauty of the structure. The arches 
consist of four main ribs, disposed in pairs with 
a clear distance between the two inner arches of 
20 feet 4 inches, forming the carriage-road, while 

High Level Bridge — Elevation of one Arch. 

between each of the inner and outer ribs there is a 
space of 6 feet 2 inches, constituting the footpaths. 
Each arch is cast in five separate lengths or segments, 
strongly bolted together. The ribs spring from hori- 
zontal plates of cast iron, bedded and secured on 
the stone piers. All the abutting joints were care- 
fully executed by machinery, the fitting being of 
the most perfect kind. In order to provide for the 
expansion and contraction of the iron arching, and 
to preserve the equilibrium of the piers without dis- 
turbance or racking of the other parts of the bridge, 
it was arranged that the ribs of every two adjoining 
arches resting on the same pier should be secured 


to the springing-plates by keys and joggles ; whilst on 
the next piers on either side, the ribs remained free 
and were at liberty to expand or contract according 
to temperature— a space being left for the purpose. 
Hence each arch is complete and independent in 
itself, the piers having simply to sustain their vertical 
pressure. There are six arches of 125 feet span each ; 
the two approaches to the bridge being formed of cast- 
iron pillars and bearers in keeping with the arches. 

The result is a bridge that for massive solidit^'^ 
may be pronounced unrivalled. It is perhaps the 
most magnificent and striking of all the bridges to 
which railways have given birth, and has been 
worthily styled "the King of railway structures." 
It is a monument of the highest engineering skill of 
our time, with the impress of power grandly stamped 
upon it. It will also be observed, from the drawing 
placed as the frontispiece of this book, that the 
High Level Bridge forms a very fine object in a 
picture of great interest, full of striking architectural 
variety and beauty. The bridge was opened on the 
15th August, 1849, and a few days after the royal 
train passed over it, halting for a few minutes to 
enable her Majesty to survey the wonderful scene 
below. In the course of the following year the 
Queen opened the extensive stone viaduct across 
the Tweed, above described, by which the last link 
was completed of the continuous line of railway 
between London and Edinburgh. Over the entrance 
to the Berwick station, occupying the site of the 
once redoubtable Border fortress, so often the deadly 
battle-ground of the ancient Scots and English, was 
erected an arch under which the royal train passed, 
bearing in large letters of gold the appropriate 
words, " The last act of the Union!^ 


The warders at Berwick no longer look out from 
the castle walls to descry the glitter of Southron 
spears. The bell-tower, from which the alarm was 
sounded of old, though still standing, is deserted ; 
the only bell heard within the precincts of the old 
castle being the railway porter's bell announcing 
the arrival and departure of trains. You see the 
Scotch express pass along the bridge and speed 
southward on the wings of steam. But no alarm 
spreads along the border now. Northumbrian 
beeves are safe. Chevy-Chase and Otterburn are 
quiet sheep-pastures. The only men at arms on 
the battlements of Alnwick Castle are of stone. 
Bamborough Castle has become an asylum for 
shipwrecked mariners, and the Norman Keep at 
Newcastle has been converted into a Museum of 
Antiquities. The railway has indeed consummated 
the Union. 

2 C 



ROBERT Stephenson's tubular bridges at menai 


We have now to describe briefly another great 
undertaking, begun by George Stephenson, and 
taken up and completed by his son, in the course of 
which the latter carried out some of his greatest 
works — we mean the Chester and Holyhead Rail- 
way, completing the railway connection with Dublin, 
as the Newcastle and Berwick line completed the 
connection with Edinburgh. It will thus be seen 
how closely Telford was followed by the Stephen- 
sons in perfecting the highways of their respective 
epochs ; the former by means of turnpike-roads, and 
the latter by means of railways. 

George Stephenson surveyed a line from Chester 
to Holyhead in 1838, and at the same time reported 
on the line through North Wales to Port Dynllaen, 
proposed by the Irish Railway Commissioners. 
His advice was strongly in favour of adopting the 
line to Holyhead, as less costly and presenting 
better gradients. A public meeting was held at 
Chester, in January, 1839, in support of the latter 
measure, at which he was present to give explana- 
tions. Mr. Uniacke, the Mayor, in opening the 
proceedings, said that Mr. Stephenson was present, 
ready to answer any questions which might be put to 


him on the subject ; and it was judiciously remarked 
that "it would be better that he should be asked 
questions than required to make a speech; for, 
though a very good engineer, he was a bad speaker." 
One of the questions then put to Mr. Stephenson 
related to the mode by which he proposed to haul 
the passenger carriages over the Menai Suspension 
Bridge by horse power ; and he was asked whether 
he knew the pressure the bridge was capable of 
sustaining. His answer was, that *'he had not yet 
made any calculations ; but he proposed getting 
data which would enable him to arrive at an 
accurate calculation of the actual strain upon the 
bridge during the late gale. He had, however, no 
hesitation in saying that it was more than twenty 
times as much as the strain of a train of carriages 
and a locomotive engine. The only reason why he 
proposed to convey the carriages over by horses, 
was in order that he might, by distributing the 
weight, not increase the wavy motion. All the 
train would be on at once ; but distributed. This 
he thought better than passing them, linked together, 
by a locomotive engine." It will thus be observed 
that the practicability of throwing a rigid railway 
bridge across the Straits had not yet been con- 

The Dublin Chamber of Commerce passed 
resolutions in favour of Stephenson's line, after 
hearing his explanation of its essential features. 
The project, after undergoing much discussion, 
was at length embodied in an Act passed in 1844; 
and the work was brought to a successful com- 
pletion by his son, with several important modi- 
fications, including the g^and original feature of the 
tubular bridges across the Menai Straits and the 

2 c 2 



[chap XYII 

estuary of the Conway. Excepting these great 
works, the construction of this line presented no 
unusual features; though the remarkable terrace 

Penmaen Mawr. [By Percival Skelton.] 

cut for the accommodation of the railway under 
the steep slope of Penmaen Mawr is worthy of a 
passing notice. 

About midway between Conway and Bangor, 


Penmaen Mawr forms a bold and almost precipitous 
headland, at the base of which, in rough weather, 
the ocean dashes with g^eat fury. There was not 
space enough between the mountain and the strand 
for the passage of the railway ; hence in some places 
the rock had to be blasted to form a terrace, and 
in others sea-walls had to be built up to the proper 
level, on which to form an embankment of sufficient 
width to enable the road to be laid. A tunnel loj 
chains in length was cut through the headland itself; 
and on its east and west sides the line was formed 
by a terrace cut out of the cliff, and by embank- 
ments protected by sea walls; the terrace being 
three times interrupted by embankments in its 
course of about i^ mile. The road lies so close 
under the steep mountain face, that it was even 
found necessary at certain places to protect it 
against possible accidents from falling stones by 
means of a covered way. The terrace on the east 
side of the headland was, however, in some measure 
protected against the roll of the sea by the mass of 
stone run out from the tunnel, and forming a deep 
shingle bank in front of the wall. 

The part of the work which lies on the westward 
of the headland penetrated by the tunnel was ex- 
posed to the full force of the sea ; and the formation 
of the road at that point was attended with great 
difficulty. While the sea-wall was still in progress, 
its strength was severely tried by a strong north- 
westerly gale, which blew in October, 1846, with a 
spring tide of 17 feet. On the following morning it 
was found that a large portion of the rubble was 
irreparably injured, and 200 yards of the wall were 
then replaced by an open viaduct, with the piers 
placed edgeways to the sea, the openings between 


them being spanned by ten cast-iron girders each 
42 feet long. This accident induced the engineer to 
alter the contour of the sea-wall, so that it should 
present a diminished resistance to the force of the 
waves. But the sea repeated its assaults, and made 
further havoc With the work, entailing heavy ex- 
penses and a complete reorganisation of the contract 
Increased solidity was then given to the masonry, 
and the face of the wall underwent further change. 
At some points outworks were constructed, and 
piles were driven into the beach, about 15 feet from 
the base of the wall, for the purpose of protecting 
its foundations and breaking the force of the waves. 
The work was at length finished, after about three 
years' anxious labour ; but Mr. Stephenson confessed 
that if a long tunnel had been made in the first 
instance through the solid rock of Penmaen Mawr, 
a saving of from 25,000/. to 30,000/. would have been 
effected. He also said he had arrived at the con- 
clusion that in railway works engineers should 
endeavour, as far as possible, to avoid the necessity 
of contending with the sea ; * but if he were ev^er 
again compelled to go within its reach, he would 
adopt, instead of retaining walls, an open viaduct, 
placing all the piers edgeways to the force of the 
sea, and allowing the waves to break upon a natural 
slope of beach. He was ready enough to admit 
the errors he had committed in the original 
design of this work ; but he said he had always 

* The simple fact that in a heavy storm the force of impact of 
the waves is from one and a-half to two tons per square foot, must 
necessarily dictate the greatest possible caution in approaching so 
formidable an element. Mr. R. Stevenson (Edinburgh) registered 
a force of three tons per square foot at Skerryvore, during a gale in 
the Atlantic, when the waves were supposed to run twenty feet high. 


gained more information from studying the causes 
of failures and endeavouring to surmount them, 
than he had done from easily-won successes. 
Whilst many of the latter had been forgotten, 
the former were indelibly fixed in his memory. 
But by far the 


greatest difficulty 
which Ro ber t 
Stephenson had to 
encounter in exe- 
cuting this rail- 
way, was in carry- 
ing it across the 
Straits of Menai 
and the estuary 
of the Conway, 
where, like his pre- 
decessor Telford 
when forming his 
high road through 
North Wales, he 
was under the 
necessity of resort- 
ing to new and 
altogether untried 
methods of bridge 
construction. At 
Menai the waters 
of the Irish Sea are 
perpetually vibrat- 
ing along the precipitous shores of the Strait ; rising 
and falling from 20 to 25 feet at each successive tide ; 
the width and depth of the channel being such as to 
render it available for navigation by the largest ships. 
The problem was, to throw a bridge across this wide 

W&rf^mu. !3Mi)^3 


chasm — a bridge ot unusual span and dimensions— 
of such strength as to be capable of bearing the 
heaviest loads at high speeds, and at such a uniforc 
height throughout as not in any way to interfere 
with the navigation of the Strait. From an early 
period, Mr. Stephenson had fixed upon the spot 
where the Britannia Rock occurs, nearly in the 
middle of the channel, as the most eligible point for 
crossing ; the water-width from shore to shore at high 
water there being about iioo feet His first idea 
was to construct the bridge of two cast-iron arches, 
each of 350 feet span. There was no novelty in 
this idea; for, as early as the year 1801, Mr. Rennie 
prepared a design of a cast-iron bridge across the 
Strait at the Swilly rocks, the great centre arch of 
which was to be 450 feet span ; and at a later period, 
in 1 8 10, Telford submitted a design of a similar 
bridge at Inys-y-Moch, with a single cast-iron arch 
of 500 feet. But the same objections which led 
to the rejection of Rennie's and Telford's designs, 
proved fatal to Robert Stephenson's, and his iron- 
arched railway bridge was rejected by the Admiralty. 
The navigation of the Strait was under no circum- 
stances to be interfered with ; and even the erection 
of scaffolding from below, to support the bridge 
during construction, was not to be permitted. The 
idea of a suspension bridge was dismissed as 
inapplicable ; a degree of rigidity and strength, 
greater than could be secured by any bridge con- 
structed on the principle of suspension, being 
considered an indispensable condition of the 
proposed structure. 

Various other plans were suggested ; but the 
whole question remained unsettled even down to 
the time when the Company went before Parliament, 


in 1844, for power to construct the proposed bridges. 
No existing kind of structure seemed to be capable 
of bearing the fearful extension to which rigid 
bridges of the necessary spans would be subjected ; 
and some new expedient of engineering therefore 
became necessary. 

Mr. Stephenson was then led to reconsider a 
design which he had made in 1841 for a road bridge 
over the river Lea at Ware, with a span of 50 feet, 
— the conditions only admitting of a platform 18 or 
20 inches thick. For this purpose a wrought-iron 
platform was designed, consisting of a series of 
simple cells, formed of boiler-plates riveted together 
with angle-iron. The bridge was not, however, 
carried out after this design, but was made of 
separate wrought-iron girders composed of riveted 
plates. Recurring to his first idea of this bridge, 
Mr. Stephenson thought that a stiff platform might 
be constructed, with sides of strongly trussed frame- 
work of wrought-iron, braced together at top and 
bottom with plates of like material riveted together 
with angle-iron; and that such platform might be 
suspended by strong chains on either side to give 
it increased security. '* It was now," says Mr. 
Stephenson, "that I came to regard the tubular 
platform as a beam, and that the chains should be 
looked upon as auxiliaries." It appeared, neverthe- 
less, that without a system of diagonal struts inside, 
which of course would have prevented the passage 
of trains through it, this kind of structure was ill- 
suited for maintaining its form, and would be very 
liable to become lozenge-shaped. Besides, the 
rectangular figure was deemed objectionable, from 
the large surface which it presented to the wind. 

It then occurred to him that circular or elliptical 


tubes might better answer the intended purpose; 
and in March, 1845, he gave instructions to two of 
his assistants to prepare drawings of such a structure, 
the tubes being made with a double thickness of 
plate at top and bottom. The results of the calcu- 
lations made as to the strength of such a tube, 
were considered so satisfactory^ that Mr. Stephen- 
son says he determined to fall back on a bridge 
of this description, on the rejection of his design 
of the two cast-iron arches by the Parliamentary 
Committee. Indeed, it became evident that a 
tubular wrought-iron beam was the only structure 
which combined the necessary strength and sta- 
bility for a railway, with the conditions deemed 
essential for the protection of the navigation. "I 
stood," says Mr. Stephenson, " on the verge of 
a responsibility from which, I confess, I had nearly 
shrunk. The construction of a tubular beam of 
such gigantic dimensions, on a platform elevated 
and supported by chains at such a height, did at 
first present itself as a difficulty of a very formid- 
able nature. Reflection, however, satisfied me 
that the principles upon which the idea was 
founded were nothing more than an extension of 
those daily in use in the profession of the engineer. 
The method, moreover, of calculating the strength 
of the structure which I had adopted, was of the 
simplest and most elementary character; and 
whatever might be the form of the tube, the 
principle on which the calculations were founded 
was equally applicable, and could not fail to lead to 
equally accurate results." * Mr. Stephenson accord- 
ingly announced to the directors of the railway 

* Robert Stephenson's narrative in Clark's 'Britannia and 
Conway Tubular Bridges,' vol. i. p. 27. 


that he was prepared to carry out a bridge of 
this general description, and they adopted his 
views, though not without considerable misgivings. 
While the engineer's mind was still occupied 
with the subject, an accident occurred to the Prince 
of Wales iron steamship, at Blackwall, which 
singularly corroborated his views as to the strength 
of wrought-iron beams of large dimensions. When 
this vessel was being launched, the cleet on the 
bow gave way, in consequence of the bolts break- 
ing, and let the vessel down so that the bilge came 
in contact with the wharf, and she remained sus- 
pended between the water and the wharf, for a 
length of about no feet, but without any injury 
to the plates of the ship ; satisfactorily proving the 
great strength of this form of construction. Thus, 
Mr. Stephenson became gradually confirmed in his 
opinion that the most feasible method of bridging 
the strait at Menai and the river at Conway was 
by means of a hollow beam of wrought-iron. As 
the time was approaching for giving evidence before 
Parliament on the subject, it was necessary for him 
to settle some definite plan for submission to the 
committee. " My late revered father," says he, 
" having always taken a deep interest in the various 
proposals which had been considered for carrying 
a railway across the Menai Straits, requested me 
to explain fully to him the views which led me 
to suggest the use of a tube, and also. the nature of 
the calculations I had made in reference to it. 
It was during this personal conference that Mr. 
William Fairbairn accidentally called upon me, to 
whom I also explained the principles of the struc- 
ture I had proposed. He at once acquiesced in 
their truth, and expressed confidence in the fea^i- 

396 MR. fairbairn's experiments [chapx\ii 

bility of my project, giving me at the same time 
some facts relative to the remarkable strength 
of iron steamships, and invited me to his works at 
Millwall, to examine the construction of an iron 
steamship which was then in progress." The date 
of this consultation was early in April, 1845, and 
Mr. Fairbairn states that, on that occasion, " Mr. 
Stephenson asked whether such a design was 
practicable, and whether I could accomplish it: 
and it was ultimately arranged that the subject 
should be investigated experimentally, to determine 
not only the value of Mr. Stephenson's original 
conception (of a circular or egg-shaped wrought- 
iron tube, supported by chains), but that of any 
other tubular form of bridge which might present 
itself in the prosecution of my researches. The 
matter was placed unreservedly in my hands ; the 
entire conduct of the investigation was entrusted 
to me ; and, as an experimenter, I was to be left 
free to exercise my own discretion in the investi- 
gation of whatever forms or conditions of the 
structure might appear to me best calculated to 
secure a safe passage across the Straits."* Mr. 
Fairbairn then proceeded to construct a number of 
experimental models for the purpose of testing the 
strength of tubes of different forms. The short 
period which elapsed, however, before the bill was 
in committee, did not admit of much progress 
being made with those experiments ; but from the 
evidence in chief given by Mr. Stephenson on the 
subject, on the sth May following, it appears that 
the idea which prevailed in his mind was that of 
a bridge with openings of 450 feet (afterwards 

♦ * Account of the Construction of the Britannia and Conway 
Tubular Bridges.' By W. Fairbairn, C.E., London, 1849. 


increased to 460 feet) ; with a roadway formed of a 
hollow wrought-iron beam, about 25 feet in diameter, 
presenting a rigid platform, suspended by chains. 
At the same time, he expressed the confident 
opinion that a tube of wrought-iron would possess 
sufficient strength and rigidity to support a railway 
train running inside of it without the help of the 

While the bill was still in progress, Mr. Fairbairn 
proceeded with his experiments. He first tested 
tubes of a cylindrical form, in consequence of the 
favourable opinion entertained by Mr. Stephenson 
of the tubes in that shape, extending them subse- 
quently to those of an elliptical form.* He found 
tubes thus shaped more or less defective, and 
proceeded to test those of a rectangular kind. After 
the bill had received the royal assent on the 30th 
June, 184s, the directors of the company, with great 
liberality, voted a sum for the purpose of enabling 
the experiments to be prosecuted, and upwards of 
6000/. were thus expended to make the assurance 
of their engineer doubly sure. Mr. Fairbaim's tests 
were of the most elaborate and eventually conclusive 
character, bringing to light many new and important 
facts of great practical value. The due proportions 
and thicknesses of the top, bottom, and sides of the 
tubes were arrived at after a vast number of trials ; 
one of the results of the experiments being the 
adoption of Mr. Fairbairn's invention of rectangular 

* Mr. Stephenson continued to hold that the elliptical tube was 
the right idea, and that sufficient justice had not been done to it. 
A year or two before his death Mr. Stephenson remarked to the 
author, that had the same arrangement for stiffening been adopted 
to which the oblong rectangular tubes owe a great part of their 
strength, a very different result would have been obtained. 

398 ROBERT Stephenson's caution [chap xvn 

hollow cells in the top of the beam for the purpose 
of giving it the requisite degree of strength. About 
the end of August it was thought desirable to obtain 
the assistance of a mathematician, who should 
prepare a formula by which the strength of a full- 
sized tube might be calculated from the results of 
the experiments made with tubes of smaller dimen- 
sions. Professor Hodgkinson was accordingly 
called in, and he proceeded to verify and confirm 
the experiments which Mr. Fairbairn had made, 
and afterwards reduced them to the required 

Mr. Stephenson's time was so much engrossed 
with his extensive engineering business that he was 
in a great measure precluded from devoting himself 
to the consideration of the practical details. The 
results of the experiments were communicated to 
him from time to time, and were regarded by him 
as exceedingly satisfactory. It would appear, how- 
ever, that while Mr. Fairbairn urged the rigidity 
and strength of the tubes without the aid of chains, 
Mr. Stephenson had not quite made up his mind 
upon the point. Mr. Hodgkinson, also, was strongly 
inclined to retain them. Mr. Fairbairn held that it 
was quite practicable to make the tubes "sufficiently 
strong to sustain not only their own weight, but, in 
addition to that load, 2000 tons equally distributed 
over the surface of the platform,— a load ten times 
greater than they will ever be called upon to 

It was thoroughly characteristic of Mr. Stephen- 
son, and of the caution with which he proceeded in 
every step of this great undertaking — probing every 
inch of the ground before he set down his foot upon 
it — that he should, early in 1856, have appointed 


his able assistant, Mr. Edwin Clark, to scrutinise 
carefully the results of every experiment, and 
subject them to a separate and independent analysis 
before finally deciding upon the form or dimensions 
of the structure, or upon any mode of procedure 
connected with it. At length Mr. Stephenson 
became satisfied that the use of auxiliary chains 
was unnecessary, and that the tubular bridge might 
be made of such strength as to be entirely self- 

While these important discussions were in pro- 
gress, measures were taken to proceed with the 
masonry of the bridges simultaneously at Conway 
and the Menai Straits. The foundation-stone of the 
Britannia Bridge was laid on the loth April, 1846; 
and on the 12th May following that of the Conway 
Bridge was laid Suitable platforms and workshops 
were also erected for proceeding with the punching, 
fitting, and riveting of the tubes ; and when these 
operations were in full progress, the neighbourhood 
of the Conway and Britannia Bridges presented 
scenes of extraordinary bustle and industry. About 
1500 men were employed on the Britannia Bridge 
alone, and they mostly lived upon the ground in 
wooden cottages erected for the occasion. The iron 
plates were brought in ship-loads from Liverpool, 
Anglesea marble from Penmon, and red sandstone 
from Runcorn, in Cheshire, as wind and tide, and 
shipping and convenience, might determine. There 
was an unremitting clank of hammers, grinding of 
machinery, and blasting of rock, going on from 
morning till night. In fitting the Britannia tubes 
together, not less than 2,000,000 of bolts were 
riveted, weighing some 900 tons. 

The Britannia Bridge consists of two indepen- 


dent continuous tubular beams, each 151 1 feet in 
length, and each weighing 4680 tons, independent of 
the cast-iron frames inserted at their bearings on 
the masonry of the towers. These immense beams 
are supported at five places, namely, on the abut- 
ments and on three towers, the central of which is 
known as the Great Britannia Tower, 230 feet high, 
built on a rock in the middle of the Strait. The side 
towers are 18 feet less in height than the central one, 
and the abutment 35 feet lower than the side towers. 
The design of the masonry is such as to accord with 
the form of the tubes, being somewhat of an Egyp- 
tian character, massive and gigantic rather than 
beautiful, but bearing the unmistakable impress of 

The bridge has four spans, — two of 460 feet over 
the water, and two of 230 feet over the land. The 
weight of the larger spans, at the points where the 
tubes repose on the masonry, is not less than 1 587 
tons. On the centre tower the tubes rest solid ; but 
on the land towers and abutments they lie on roller- 
beds, so as to allow of expansion and contraction. 
The road within each tube is 15 feet wide, and the 
height varies from 23 feet at the ends to 30 feet at 
the centre. To give an idea of the vast size of the 
tubes by comparison with other structures, it may 
be mentioned that each length constituting the main 
spans is twice as long as London Monument is high ; 
and if it could be set on end in St. Paul's Church- 
yard, it would reach nearly 100 feet above the cross. 

The Conway Bridge is, in most respects, similar 
to the Britannia, consisting of two tubes, of 400 feet 
span, placed side by side, each weighing 11 80 tons. 
The principle adopted in the construction of the 
tubes, and the mode of floating and raising them, 


were nearly the same as at the Britannia Bridge, 
though the general arrangement of the plates is in 
many respects different. 

It was determined to construct the shorter outer 
tubes of the Britannia Bridge on scaffoldings in the 

Conway Tubular Bridge. 

positions in which they were permanently to remain, 
and to erect the larger tubes upon wooden platforms 
at high-water-mark on the Caernarvon shore, from 
whence they were to be floated in pontoons. 

The floating of the tubes on pontoons, from the 

V. 2D 


places where they had been constructed, to the 
recesses in the masonry of the towers, up which 
they were to be hoisted to the positions they were 
permanently to occupy, was an anxious and exciting 
operation. The first part of this process was per- 
formed at Conway, where Mr. Stephenson directed 
it in person, assisted by Captain Claxton, Mr. Brunei, 
and other engineering friends. On the 6th March, 
1848, the pontoons bearing the first great tube of the 
up-line were floated round quietly and majestically 
into their place between the towers in about twenty 
minutes. Unfortunately 'one of the sets of pontoons 
had become slightly slued by the stream, by which 
the Conway end of the tube was prevented from 
being brought home; and five anxious days to all 
concerned intervened before it could be set in its 
place. In the mean time, the presses and raising 
machinery had been fitted in the towers above, and 
the lifting process was begun on the 8th April, when 
the immense mass was raised 8 feet, at the rate 
of about 2 inches a minute. On the i6th, the tube 
had been raised and finally lowered into its perma- 
nent bed ; the rails were laid along it ; and, on the 
1 8th, Mr Stephenson passed through with the first 
locomotive. The second tube was proceeded with 
on the removal of the first from the platform, and 
was completed and floated in seven months. The 
rapidity with which this second tube was constructed 
was in no small degree owing to the Jacquard 
punching-machine, contrived for the purpose by 
Mr Roberts of Manchester, This tube was finally 
fixed in its permanent bed on the 2nd of January, 

The floating and fixing of the great Britannia 
tubes was a still more formidable enterprise, though 


the experience gained at Conway rendered it easy 
compared with what it otherwise would have 
been. Mr. Stephenson superintended the operation 
of floating the first in person, giving the arranged 
signals from the top of the tube on which he was 
mounted, the active part of the business being 
performed by a numerous corps of sailors, under 
the immediate direction of Captain Claxton. 
Thousands of spectators lined the shores of the 
Strait on the evening of the 19th June, 1849. On 
the land attachments being cut, the pontoons began 
to float off; but one of the capstans having given 
way from excessive strain, the tube was brought 
home again for the night By next morning the 
defective capstan was restored, and all was in 
readiness for another trial. At half-past seven in 
the evening the tube was afloat, and the pontoons 
swung out into the current like a monster pendulum, 
held steady by the shore guide-lines, but increasing 
in speed to almost a fearful extent as they neared 
their destined place between the piers. "The 
success of this operation," says Mr, Clark, ** depended 
mainly on properly striking the * butt * beneath the 
Anglesey tower, on which, as upon a centre, the 
tube was to be veered round into its position across 
the opening. This position was determined by 
a 12-inch line, which was to be paid out to a fixed 
mark from the Llanfair capstan. The coils of the 
rope unfortunately over-rode each other upon this 
capstan, so that it could not be paid out. In resisting 
the motion of the tube, the capstan was bodily 
dragged out of the platform by the action of the 
palls, and the tube was in imminent danger of being 
carried away by the stream, or the pontoons crushed 
upon the rocks. The men at the capstan were all 

2 D 2 


knocked down, and some of them thrown into the 
water, though they made every exertion to arrest 
the motion of the capstan-bars. Jn this dilemma 
Mr. Rolfe, who had charge of the capstan, with great 
presence of mind, called the visitors on shore to his 
assistance ; and handing out the spare coil of the 
1 2-inch line into the field at the back of the capstan, 
it was carried with g^eat rapidity up the field, and 
a crowd of people, men, women and children, holding 
on to this huge cable, arresting the progress of the 
tube, which was at length brought safely against the 
butt and veered round. The Britannia end was then 
drawn into the recess of the masonry by a chain 
passing through the tower to a crab on the far side. 
The violence of the tide abated, though the wind 
increased, and the Anglesey end was drawn into its 
place beneath the corbelling in the masonry ; and as 
the tide went down, the pontoons deposited their 
valuable cargo on the welcome shelf at each end. 
The successful issue was greeted by cannon from 
the shore and the hearty cheers of many thousands 
of spectators, whose sympathy and anxiety were but 
too clearly indicated by the unbroken silence with 
which the whole operation had been accompanied." * 
By midnight all the pontoons had been got clear 
of the tube, which now hung suspended over the 
waters of the Strait by its two ends, which rested 
upon the edges cut in the rock for the purpose at 
the base of the Britannia and Anglesey towers 
respectively, up which the tube had now to be lifted 
by hydraulic power to its permanent place near 
the summit. The accuracy with which the gigantic 

* ^ The Britannia and Conway Tubular Bridges.' By Edwin 
Clark. Vol. ii. pp. 683-4. 

CHAP xvii] Stephenson's anxiety 405 

beam had been constructed may be inferred from 
the fact that, after passing into its place, a clear 
space remained between the iron plating and the 
rock outside of it of only about three-quarters of 
an inch ! 

Mr. Stephenson's anxiety was, of course, very 
great up to the time of performing this trying 
operation. When he had got the first tube floated 
at Conway, and saw all safe, he said to Captain 
Moorsom, " Now I shall go to bed." But the 
Britannia Bridge was a still more difficult enter- 
prise, and cost him many a sleepless night. After- 
wards describing his feelings to his friend Mr. 
Gooch, he said : " It was a most anxious and 
harassing time with me. Often at night I would 
lie tossing about, seeking sleep in vain. The tubes 
filled my head. I went to bed with them and got 
up with them. In the grey of the morning, when 
I looked across the Square,* it seemed an immense 
distance across to the houses on the opposite side. 
It was nearly the same length as the span of my 
tubular bridge!" When the first tube had been 
floated, a friend observed to him, " This great work 
has made you ten years older." " I have not slept 
sound," he replied, " for three weeks." Sir F. Head, 
however, relates, that when he revisited the spot 
on the following morning, he observed, sitting on 
a platform overlooking the suspended tube, a 
gentleman reclining entirely by himself, smoking 
a cigar, and gazing, as if indolently, at the aerial 
gallery beneath him. It was the engineer himself, 
contemplating his new-born child. He had strolled 
down from the neighbouring village, after his first 

• No. 34, Gloucester Square, Hyde Park, where he lived. 

4o6 Stephenson's anxiety [chap xvii 

sound and refreshing sleep for weeks, to behold 
in sunshine and solitude, that which during a 
weary period of gestation had been either mysteri- 
ously moving in his brain, or, like a vision — some- 
times of good omen, and sometimes of evil — had, 
by night as well as by day, been flitting across his 

The next process was the lifting of the tube into 
its place, which was performed very dehberately and 
cautiously. It was raised by powerful hydraulic 
presses, only a few feet at a time, and carefully 
under-built, before being raised to a farther height. 
When it had been got up by successive stages of this 
kind to about 24 feet, an extraordinary accident occur- 
red, during Mr. Stephenson's absence in London, 
which he afterwards described to the author in as 
nearly as possible the following words : — " In a work 
of such novelty and magnitude, you may readily 
imagine how anxious I was that every possible 
contingency should be provided for. Where one 
chain or rope was required, I provided two. I was 
not satisfied with * enough ' : I must have absolute 
security, as far as that was possible. I knew the 
consequences of failure would be most disastrous 
to the Company, and that the wisest economy was 
to provide for all contingencies at whatever cost. 
When the first tube at the Britannia had been 
successfully floated between the piers, ready for 
being raised, my young engineers were very much 
elated ; and when the hoisting apparatus had been 
fixed, they wrote to me saying, — *We are now 
all ready for raising her: we could do it in a 
day, or in two at the most.' But my reply was, 
* No : you must only raise the tube inch by inch, and 
you must build up under it as you rise. Every inch 


must be made good. Nothing must be left to chance 
or good luck. ' And fortunate it was that I insisted 
upon this cautious course being pursued; for one 
day, while the hydraulic presses were at work, the 

The Britannia Bridge. [By Percival Skejton.] 

bottom of one of them burst clean away! The 
crosshead and the chains, weighing more than 50 
tons, descended with a fearful crash upon the press 
and the tube itself fell down upon the packing 

4o8 THE queen's visit [chap xvii 

beneath. Though the fall of the tube was not more 
than nine inches, it crushed solid castings, weighing 
tons, as if they had been nuts. The tube itself 
was slightly strained and deflected, though it still 
remained sufficiently serviceable. But it was a 
tremendous test to which it was put, for a weight 
of upwards of 5000 tons falling even a few inches 
must be admitted to be a very serious matter. 
That it stood so well was extraordinary. Clark 
immediately wrote me an account of the circum- 
stance, in which he said, 'Thank God, you have 
been so obstinate. For if this accident had occurred 
without a bed for the end of the tube to fall on, the 
whole would now have been lying across the bottom 
of the Straits.' Five thousand pounds extra expense 
was caused by this accident, slight though it might 
seem. But careful provision was made against 
future failure; a new and improved cylinder was 
provided : and the work was very soon advancing 
satisfactorily towards completion." 

When the Queen first visited the Britannia 
Bridge^ on her return from the North in 1852, Robert 
Stephenson accompanied her Majesty and Prince 
Albert over the works, explaining the principles on 
which the bridge had been built, and the difficulties 
which had attended ils erection. He conducted the 
Royal party to near the margin of the sea, and, after 
describing to them the incident of the fall of the 
tube, and the reason of its preservation, he pointed 
with pardonable pride to a pile of stones which 
the workmen had there raised to commemorate 
the event. While nearly all the other marks of the 
work during its progress had been obliterated, that 
cairn had been left standing in commemoration of 
the caution and foresight of their chief 


The floating and raising of the remaining tubes 
need 'not be described in detail. The second was 
floated on the 3rd December, and set in its perma- 
nent place on the 7th January, 1850. The others 
were floated and raised in due course. On the 5th 
March, Mr. Stephenson put the last rivet in the 
last tube, and passed through the completed bridge, 
accompanied by about a thousand persons, drawn 
by three locomotives. The bridge was opened for 
public traffic on the i8th March. The cost of the 
whole work was 234,450/. 

The Britannia Bridge is one of the most re- 
markable monuments of the enterprise and skill 
of the present century. Robert Stephenson was the 
master spirit of the undertaking. To him belongs 
the merit of first seizing the ideal conception of the 
structure best adapted to meet the necessities of the 
case; and of selecting the best men to work out 
his idea, himself watching, controlling, and test- 
ing every result, by independent check and counter- 
dheck. And finally, he organised and directed, 
through his assistants, the vast band of skilled 
workmen and labourers who were for so many 
years occupied in carrying his magnificent original 
conception to a successful practical issue. As he 
himself said of the work, — " The true and accurate 
calculation of all the conditions and elements essen- 
tial to the safety of the bridge had been a source 
not only of mental but of bodily toil; including, 
as it did, a combination of abstract thought and 
well-considered experiment adequate to the magni- 
tude of the project." 

The Britannia Bridge was the result of a vast 
combination of skill and industry. But for the 
perfection of our tools and the ability of our 


mechanics to use them to the greatest advantage ; 
but for the matured powers of the steam-engine ; 
but for the improvements in the iron manufacture, 
which enabled blooms to be puddled of sizes before 
deemed impracticable, and plates and bars of 
immense size to be rolled and forged; but for 
these, the Britannia Bridge would have been 
designed in vain. Thus, it was not the product of 
the genius of the railway engineer alone, but of the 
collective mechanical genius of the English nation. 

Conway Bridge. — Floating the First Tube. 


View in Tapton Gardens 



In describing the completion of the series of 
great works detailed in the preceding chapter, we 
have somewhat anticipated the closing years of 
George Stephenson's life. He could not fail to 
take an anxious interest in the success of his son's 
designs, and he accordingly paid many visits to 
Conway and to Menai, during the progress of the 
works. He was present on the occasion of the 
floating and raising of the first Conway tube, and 
there witnessed a clear proof of the soundness 
of Robert's judgment as to the efficiency and 
strength of the tubular bridge, of which he had 
at first expressed some doubts; but before the 
like test could be applied at the Britannia 
Bridge, George Stephenson's mortal anxieties were 


at an end, for he had then ceased from all his 

Towards the close of his life, George Stephenson 
almost entirely withdrew from the active pursuit 
of his profession. He devoted himself chiefly to his 
extensive collieries and lime-works, taking a local 
interest only in such projected railways as were 
calculated to open up new markets for their 

At home he lived the life of a country gentleman, 
enjoying his garden and grounds, and indulging 
his love of nature, which, through all his busy 
life, had never left him. It was not until the year 
1845 that he took an active interest in horticultural 
pursuits. Then he began to build new melon- 
houses, pineries, and vineries, of great extent ; and 
he now seemed as eager to excel all other growers 
of exotic plants in his neighbourhood, as he had 
been to surpass the villagers of Killingworth in the 
production of gigantic cabbages and cauliflowers 
some thirty years before. He had a pine-house 
built 68 feet in length and a pinery 140 feet. Work- 
men were constantly employed in enlarging them, 
until at length he had no fewer than ten glass 
forcing-houses, heated with hot water, which he 
was one of the first in the neighbourhood to make 
use of for such a purpose. He did not take so 
much pleasure in flowers as in fruits. At one of 
the county agricultural meetings, he said that he 
intended yet to grow pine-apples at Tapton as big 
as. pumpkins. The only man to whom he would 
"knock under" was his friend Paxton, the 
gardener to the Duke of Devonshire ; and he was 
so old in the service, and so skilful, that he could 
scarcely hope to beat him. Yet his "Queen" 


pines did take the first prize at a competition with 
the Duke, — though this was not until shortly after 
his death, when the plants had become more fully 
grown. His grapes also took the first prize at 
Rotherham, at a competition open to all England. 
He was extremely successful in producing melons, 
having invented a method of suspending them in 
baskets of wire gauze, which, by relieving the 
stalk from tension, allowed nutrition to proceed 
more freely, and better enabled the fruit to grow 
and ripen. 

He took much pride also in his growth of 
cucumbers. He raised them very fine and large, 
but he could not make them grow straight. Place 
them as he would, notwithstanding all his propping 
of them and humouring them by modifying the 
application of heat and the admission of light for 
the purpose of effecting his object, they would 
still insist on growing crooked in their own way. 
At last he had a number of glass cylinders made 
at Newcastle, for the purpose of an experiment; 
into these the growing cucumbers were inserted, 
and then he succeeded in growing them perfectly 
straight. Carrying one of the new products into 
his house one day and exhibiting it to a party of 
visitors, he told them of the expedient he had 
adopted, and added gleefully, " I think I have 
bothered them noo ! " 

Mr. Stephenson also carried on farming opera- 
tions with some success. He experimented on 
manuie, and fed cattle after methods of his own. 
He was very particular as to breed and build in 
stock-breeding. "You see, sir," he said to one 
gentleman, " I like to see the coo's back at a gradient 
something like this " (drawing an imaginary line 


with his hand), "and then the ribs or girders will 
carry more flesh than if they were so — or so." 
When he attended the county agricultural meet- 
ings, which he frequently did, he was accustomed 
to take part in the discussions, and he brought the 
same vigorous practical mind to bear upon questions 
of tillage, drainage, and farm economy, which he 
had been accustomed to exercise on mechanical and 
engineering matters. 

All his early affection for birds and animals re- 
vived. He had favourite dogs, and cows, and horses ; 
and again he began to keep rabbits, and to pride 
himself on the beauty of his breed. There was not 
a bird's nest upon the grounds that he did not know 
of; and from day to day he went round watching 
the progress which the birds made with their build- 
ing, carefully guarding them from injury. No one 
was more minutely acquainted with the habits of 
British birds, the result of a long, loving, and close 
observation of nature. 

At Tapton he remembered the failure of his early 
experiment in hatching birds* eggs by heat, and he 
now performed it successfully, being able to secure 
a proper apparatus for maintaining a uniform tem- 
perature. He was also curious about the breeding 
and fattening of fowls ; and when his friend Edward 
Pease of Darlington visited him at Tapton, he ex- 
plained a method which he had invented for fatten- 
ing chickens in half the usual time. 

Mrs. Stephenson tried to keep bees, but found 
they would not thrive at Tapton. Many hives 
perished, and there was no case of success. The 
cause of failure was a puzzle to the engineer ; but 
one day his acute powers of observation enabled 
him to unravel it. At the foot of the hill on which 

CHAP xviii] Stephenson's READING 415 

Tapton House stands, he saw some bees trying to 
rise up from amongst the grass, laden with honey and 
wax. They were already exhausted, as if with long 
flying ; and then it occurred to him that the height at 
which the house stood above the bees' feeding- 
ground rendered it difficult for them to reach their 
hives when heavy laden, and hence they sank ex- 
hausted. He afterwards incidentally mentioned the 
circumstance to Mr. Jesse the naturalist, who con- 
curred in his view as to the cause of failure, and 
was much struck by the keen observation which had 
led to its solution. 

Mr. Stephenson had none of the in-door habits 
of the student. He read very little ; for reading is 
a habit which is generally acquired in youth ; and his 
youth and manhood had been for the most part spent 
in hard work. Books wearied him, and sent him to 
sleep. Novels excited his feelings too much, and he 
avoided them, though he would occasionally read 
through a philosophical book on a subject in which 
he felt particularly interested. He wrote very few 
letters with his own hand ; nearly all his letters 
were dictated, and he avoided even dictation when 
he could. His greatest pleasure was in conversa- 
tion, from which he gathered most of his imparted 

It was his practice, when about to set out on a 
journey by railway, to walk along the train before 
it started, and look into the carriages to see if he 
could find " a conversable face." On one of these 
occasions, at the Euston Station, he discovered in 
a carriage a very handsome, manly, and intelligent 
face, which he afterwards found was that of the late 
Lord Denman. He was on his way down to his seat 
at Stony Middleton, in Derbyshire. Mr. Stephenson 


entered the carriage, and the two were shortly- 
engaged in interesting conversation. It turned upon 
chronometry and horology, and the engineer amazed 
his lordship by the extent of his knowledge on the 
subject, in which he displayed as much minute 
information, even down to the latest improvements 
in watchmaking, as if he had been bred a watchmaker 
and lived by the trade. Lord Denman was curious 
to know how a man whose time must have been 
mainly engrossed by engineering, had gathered so 
much knowledge on a subject quite out of his own 
line, and he asked the question. "I learnt clock- 
making and watchmaking," was the answer, "while 
a working man at Killingworth, when I made a little 
money in my spare hours, by cleaning the pitmen's 
clocks and watches ; and since then I have kept up 
my information on the subject." This led to further 
questions, and then Mr. Stephenson told Lord 
Denman the interesting story of his life, which 
held him entranced during the remainder of the 

Many of his friends readily accepted invitations 
to Tapton House to enjoy his hospitality, which 
never failed. With them he would " fight his battles 
o'er again," reverting to his battle for the locomotive ; 
and he was never tired of telling, nor were his 
auditors of listening to, the lively anecdotes with 
which he was accustomed to illustrate the struggles 
of his early career. Whilst walking in the woods 
or through the grounds he would arrest his friend's 
attention by allusion to some simple object, — such as 
a leaf, a blade of grass, a bit of bark, a nest of birds, 
or an ant carrying its eggs across the path, — and 
descant in glowing terms upon the creative power 
of the Divine Mechanician, whose contrivances were 


SO exhaustless and so wonderful. This was a theme 
upon which he was often accustomed to dwell in 
reverential admiration, when in the society of his 
more intimate friends. 

One night, when walking under the stars, and 
gazing up into the field of suns, each the probable 
centre of a system, forming the Milky Way, a friend 
said to him, " What an insignificant creature is man 
in sight of so immense a creation as that ! " " Yes ! " 
was his reply; "but how wonderful a creature 
also is man, to be able to think and reason,* and 
even in some measure to comprehend works so 
infinite ! " 

A microscope, which he had brought down to 
Tapton, was a source of immense enjoyment to him ; 
and he was never tired of contemplating the minute 
wonders which it revealed One evening, when 
some friends were visiting him, he induced them 
each to puncture their skin so as to draw blood, in 
order that he might examine the globules through 
the microscope. One of the gentlemen present was 
a teetotaller, and Mr. Stephenson pronounced his 
blood to be the most lively of the whole. He had 
a theory of his own about the movement of the 
globules in the blood, which has since become 
familiar. It was, that they were respectively charged 
with electricity, positive at one end and negative at 
the other, and that thus they attracted and repelled 
each other, causing a circulation. No sooner did 
he observe anything new, than he immediately set 
about devising a reason for it. His training in 
mechanics, his practical familiarity with matter in all 
its forms, and the strong bent of his mind, led him 
first of all to seek for a mechanical explanation. 
And yet he was ready to admit that there was a 
V. 2 E 



something in the principleof/«>— so mysterious and 
inexplicable— which baffled mechanics, and seemed 
to dominate over and control them. He did not 
care much, either, for abstruse mechanics, but only 
for the experimental and practical, as is usually the 

case with those 
whose know- 
ledge has been 
b ^^^' ^ self-acquired. 
PW^;I^^ Even at his 

^?^v'';; advanced age, 
the spirit of frolic 
had not left him. 
When proceed- 
ing from Ches- 
terfield station to 
Tapton House 
with his friends, 
he would almost 
invariably chal- 
lenge them to a 
race up the steep 
path, partly 
formed of stone 
steps, along the 
hill side. And he 
would struggle, 
as of old, to keep 
the front place, 
though by this time his "wind" had greatly 
failed. He would occasionally invite an old friend 
to take a quiet wrestle with him on the lawn, to 
keep up his skill, and perhaps to try some new 
"knack" of throwing. In the evening he would 
sometimes indulge his visitors by reciting the old 



pastoral of "Damon and Phyllis," or singing his 
favourite song of "John Anderson my Joe." But 
his greatest glory amongst those with whom he 
was most intimate, was a " crowdie ! " " Let*s have 
a crowdie night," he would say ; and forthwith a 
kettle of boiling water was ordered in, with a basin 
of oatmeal. Taking a large bowl, containing a 
sufficiency of hot water, and placing it between his 
knees, he poured in oatmeal with one hand, and 
stirred the mixture vigorously with the other. When 
enough meal had been added, and the stirring was 
completed, the crowdie was made. It was then 
supped with new milk, and Stephenson generally 
pronounced it " capital ! " It was the diet to which 
he had been accustomed when a working man, and 
all the dainties with which he had become familiar 
in recent years, had not spoiled his simple tastes. 
To enjoy crowdie at his age, besides, indicated that 
he still possessed that quality on which no doubt 
much of his practical success in life had depended, 
— a strong and healthy digestion. 

He would also frequently invite to his house 
the humbler companions of his early life, and take 
pleasure in talking over old times with them. He 
never assumed any of the bearings of a great man 
on such occasions, but treated the visitors with the 
same friendliness and respect as if they had been his 
equals, sending them away pleased with themselves 
and delighted with him. At other times, needy men 
who had known him in youth would knock at his 
door, and they were never refused access. But if he 
had heard of any misconduct on their part he would 
rate them soundly. One who knew him intimately 
in private life has seen him exhorting such back- 
sliders, and denouncing their misconduct and im- 

2 £ 2 


prudence with the tears streaming down his cheeks. 
And he would generally conclude by opening his 
purse, and giving them the help which they needed 
** to make a fresh start in the world." 

Mr. Stephenson's life at Tapton during his latter 
years was occasionally diversified with a visit to 
London. His engineering business having become 
limited, he generally went there for the purpose of 
visiting friends, or " to see what there was fresh 
going on." He found a new race of engineers 
springing up on all hands — men who knew him not ; 
and his London journeys gradually ceased to yield 
him pleasure. A friend used to take him to the 
opera, but by the end of the first act he was 
generally in a profound slumber. Yet on one oc- 
casion he enjoyed a visit to the Haymarket with a 
party of friends on his birthday, to see T. P. Cooke, 
in ** Black-eyed Susan '* ;— if that can be called en- 
oyment which kept him in a state of tears during 
half the performance. At other times he visited 
Newcastle, which always gave him great pleasure. 
He would, on such occasions, go out to Killingworth 
and seek up old friends, and if the people whom he 
knew were too retiring, and shrunk into their cottages, 
he went and sought them there. Striking the floor 
with his stick, and holding his noble person upright, 
he would say, in his own kind way, "Well, and 
how's all here to-day ? " To the last he had always 
a warm heart for Newcastle and its neighbourhood. 

Sir Robert Peel, on more than one occasion, 
invited George Stephenson to his mansion at 
Drayton, where he was accustomed to assemble 
round him men of the highest distinction in art, 
science, and legislation, during the intervals of his 
parliamentary life. The first invitation was respect- 


fully declined. Sir Robert invited him a second 
time, and a second time he declined : " I have no 
great ambition/' he said, **to mix in fine company, 
and perhaps should feel out of my element amongst 
such high folks." But Sir Robert a third time 
pressed him to come down to Tamworth early 
in January, 1845, when he would meet Buckland, 
Follett, and others well known to both. ** Well, Sir 
Robert," said he, " I feel your kindness very much, 
and can no longer refuse: I will come down and 
join your party." Mr. Stephenson's strong powers 
of observation, together with his native humour and 
shrewdness, imparted to his conversation at all 
times much vigour and originality, and made him, 
to young and old, a delightful companion. Though 
mainly an engineer, he was also a profound thinker 
on many scientific questions : and there was scarcely 
a subject of speculation, or a department of recondite 
science, on which he had not employed his faculties 
in such a way as to have formed large and original 
views. At Drayton, the conversation usually 
turned upon such topics, and Mr. Stephenson 
freely joined in it. On one occasion, an animated 
discussion took place between himself and Dr. 
Buckland on one of his favourite theories as to the 
formation of coal. But the result was, that Dr. 
Buckland, a much greater master of tongue-fence 
than Mr. Stephenson, completely silenced him. 
Next morning, before breakfast, when he was 
walking in the grounds, deeply pondering. Sir 
William Follett came up and asked what he was 
thinking about ? " Why, Sir William, I am thinking 
over that argument I had with Buckland last night ; 
I know I am right, and that if I had only the com- 
mand of words which he has, Td have beaten him." 


"Let me know all about it," said Sir William, 
" and I'll see what I can do for you." The two sat 
down in an arbour, and the astute lawyer made 
himself thoroughly acquainted with the points of 
the case; entering into it with all the zeal of an 
advocate about to plead the dearest interests ol 
his client. After he had mastered the subject, Sir 
William rose up, rubbing his hands with glee, and 
said, " Now I am ready for him." Sir Robert Peel 
was made acquainted with the plot, and adroitly 
introduced the subject of the controversy after 
dinner. The result was, that in the argument 
which followed, the man of science was overcome 
by the man of law ; and Sir William FoUett had 
at all points the mastery over Dr. Buckland. 
" What do you say, Mr. Stephenson ? " asked Sir 
Robert, laughing. "Why," said he, " I will only 
say this, that of all the powers above and under the 
earth, there seems to me to be no power so great 
as the gift of the gab." * 

One Sunday, when the party had just returned 
from church, they were standing together on the 
terrace near the Hall, and observed in the distance 
a railway-train flashing along, tossing behind its 
long white plume of steam. " Now, Buckland," said 
Stephenson, " I have a poser for you. Can you tell 
me what is the power that is driving that train ? " 
" Well," said the other, "I suppose it is one of your 
big engines. " " But what drives the engine ? " 
"Oh, very likely a canny Newcastle driver." 
" What do you say to the light of the sun ? " 
"How can that be?" asked the doctor. "It is 

* The above anecdote is given on the authority of Mr. Sopwith, 


nothing else," said the engineer ; " it is light bottled 
up in the earth for tens of thousands of years, — 
light, absorbed by plants and vegetables, being 
necessary for the condensation of carbon during 
the process of their growth, if it be not carbon in 
another form, — and now, after being buried in the 
earth for long ages in fields of coal, that latent light 
is again brought forth and liberated, made to work 
as in that locomotive, for great human purposes." 

During the same visit, Mr. Stephenson, one 
evening, repeated his experiment with blood drawn 
from the finger, submitting it to the microscope in 
order to show the curious circulation of the globules. 
He set the example by pricking his own thumb ; 
and the other guests, by turns, in like manner, gave 
up a small portion of their blood for the purpose 
of ascertaining the comparative liveliness of their 
circulation. When Sir Robert Peel's turn came, 
Mr. Stephenson said he was curious to know " how 
the blood globules of a great politician would con- 
duct themselves." Sir Robert held forth his finger 
for the purpose of being pricked ; but once, and 
again, he sensitively shrunk back, and at length the 
experiment, so far as he was concerned, was aban- 
doned. Sir Robert Peel's sensitiveness to pain was 
extreme, and yet he was destined, a few years after, 
to die a death of the most distressing agony. 

In 1847, the year before his death, Mr. Stephen- 
son was again invited to join a distinguished party 
at Drayton Manor, and to assist in the ceremony of 
formally opening the Trent Valley Railway, which 
had been originally designed and laid out by himself 
many years before. The first sod of the railway 
had been cut by the Prime Minister, in November, 
184S, during the time when Mr. Stephenson was 


abroad on the business of the Spanish railway. 
The formal opening took place on the 26th June, 
1847, the line having thus been constructed in less 
than two years. 

What a change had come over the spirit of the 
landed gentry since the time when George Stephen- 
son had first projected a railway through that 
district ! Then they were up in arms against him, 
characterising him as the devastator and spoiler 
of their estates ; now he was hailed as one of the 
greatest benefactors of the age. Sir Robert Peel, the 
chief political personage in England, welcomed him 
as a guest and friend, and spoke of him as the chief 
among practical philosophers. A dozen members 
of Parliament, seven baronets, with all the landed 
magnates of the district, assembled to celebrate the 
opening of the railway. The clergy were there to 
bless the enterprise, and to bid all hail to railway 
progress, as " enabling them to carry on with greater 
facility those operations in connexion with religion 
which were calculated to be so beneficial to the 
country." The army, speaking through the mouth 
of General A'Court, acknowledged the vast impor- 
tance of railways, as tending to improve the 
military defences of the country. And representa- 
tives from eight corporations were there to 
acknowledge the great benefits which railways had 
conferred upon the merchants, tradesmen, and 
working classes of their respective towns and cities. 

In the spring of 1848 Mr. Stephenson was invited 
to Whittington House, near Chesterfield, the resi- 
dence of his friend and former pupil, Mr. Swanwick, 
to meet the distinguished American, Emerson. 
Upon being introduced, they did not immediately 
engage in conversation ; but presently Stephenson 


jumped up, took Emerson by the collar, and giving 
him one of his friendly shakes, asked how it was 
that in England we could always tell an American ? 
This led to an interesting conversation, in the course 
of which Emerson said how much he had been 
everywhere struck by the haleness and comeliness 
of the English men and women ; and then they 
diverged into a further discussion of the influences 
which air, climate, moisture, soil, and other con- 
ditions exercised upon the physical and moral 
development of a people. The conversation was 
next directed to the subject of electricity, upon 
which Stephenson launched out enthusiastically, 
explaining his views by several simple and striking 
illustrations. From thence it gradually turned 
to the events of his own life, which he related 
in so graphic a manner as completely to rivet 
the attention of the American. Afterwards Emer- 
son said, " that it was worth crossing the 
Atlantic to have seen Stephenson alone; he had 
such native force of character and vigour of 

The rest of Mr. Stephenson's days were spent 
quietly at Tapton, amongst his dogs, his rabbits, 
and his birds. When not engaged about the works 
connected with his collieries, he was occupied in 
horticulture and farming. He continued proud of 
his flowers, his fruits, and his crops ; and the old 
spirit of competition was still strong within him. 
Although he had for some time been in delicate 
health, and his hand shook from nervous affection, 
he appeared to possess a sound constitution. 
Emerson had observed of him that he had the lives 
of many men in him. But perhaps the American 
spoke figuratively, in reference to his vast stores of 


experience. It appeared that he had never com- 
pletely recovered from the attack of pleurisy which 
seized him during his return from Spain. As late, 
however, as the 26th July, 1848, he felt himself 
sufficiently well to be able to attend a meeting of the 
Institute of Mechanical Engineers at Birmingham, 
and to read to the members his paper "On the 
Fallacies of the Rotatory Engine." It was his last 
appearance before them. Shortly after his return 
to Tapton, he had an attack of intermittent fever, 
from which he seemed to be recovering, when a 
sudden effusion of blood from the lungs carried him 
off, on the 12th August, 1848, in the sixty-seventh 
year of his age. When all was over, Robert wrote 
to Edward Pease, " With deep pain I inform you, as 
one of his oldest friends, of the death of my dear 
father this morning at 12 o'clock, after about ten 
days' illness from severe fever." Mr. Starbuck, who 
was also present, wrote, " The favourable symptoms 
of yesterday morning were towards evening followed 
by a serious change for the worse. This con- 
tinued during the night, and early this morning 
it became evident that he was sinking. At a 
few minutes before 12 to-day he breathed his 
last. All that the most devoted and unremit- 
ting care of Mrs. Stephenson * and the skill of 
medicine could accomplish, has been done, but 
in vain." 

George Stephenson's remains were followed to 
the grave by a large body of his workpeople, by 
whom he was greatly admired and beloved. They 

* The second Mrs. Stephenson having died in 1845, George 
married a third time in 1848, about six months before his death. 
The third Mrs. Stephenson had for some time been his house- 


remembered him as a kind master, who was ever 
ready actively to promote all measures for their 
moral, physical, and mental improvement. The 
inhabitants of Chesterfield evinced their respect for 
the deceased by suspending business, closing their 
shops, and joining in the funeral procession, which 
was headed by the corporation of the town. Many 
of the surrounding gentry also attended. The body 

Trinity Church, Chesterfield. 

was interred in Trinity Church, Chesterfield, where 
a simple tablet marks the great engineer's last 

The statue of George Stephenson, which the 
Liverpool and Manchester and Grand Junction 
Companies had commissioned, was on its way to 
England when his death occurred ; and it served 
for a monument, though his best monument will 
always be his works. The statue referred to was 


placed in St. George's Hall, Liverpool. A full-length 
statue of him, by Bailey, was also erected a few 
years later, in the noble vestibule of the London 
and North-Western Station, in Euston Square. 
A subscription for the purpose was set on foot 
by the Society of Mechanical Engineers, of which 
he had been the founder and president. A few 
advertisements were inserted in the newspapers, 
inviting subscriptions; and it is a notable fact 
that the voluntary offerings included an average 
of two shillings each from 3150 working men, who 
embraced this opportunity of doing honour to their 
distinguished fellow workman. 

But unquestionably the finest and most appro- 
priate statue to the memory of George Stephenson 
is that erected in 1862, after the design of John 
Lough, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It is in the im- 
mediate neighbourhood of the Literary and Philo- 
sophical Institute, to which both George and his son 
Robert were so much indebted in their early years ; 
close to the great Stephenson locomotive foundry 
established by the shrewdness of the father ; and in 
the vicinity of the High Level Bridge, one of the 
grandest products of the genius of the son. The 
head of Stephenson, as expressed in this noble 
work, is massive, characteristic, and faithful ; and 
the attitude of the figure is simple yet manly and 
energetic. It stands on a pedestal, at the respective 
comers of which are sculptured the recumbent 
figures of a pitman, a mechanic, an engine-driver, 
and a plate-layer. The statue appropriately stands 
in a very thoroughfare of working men, thousands 
of whom see it daily as they pass to and from 
their work ; and we can imagine them, as they 
look up to Stephenson's manly figure, applying 



to it the words addressed by Robert NicoU to 
Robert Burns, with perhaps still greater appro- 
priateness : — 

" Before the proudest of the earth 
We stand, with an uplifted brow; 
Like us, thou wast a toiling man, — 
And we are noble, now I " 

The portrait prefixed to this volume gives a good 
indication of George Stephenson's shrewd, kind, 
honest, manly face. His fair, clear countenance 
was ruddy, and seemingly glowed with health. The 
forehead was large and high, projecting over the 
eyes, and there was that massive breadth across the 
lower part which is usually observed in men of 
eminent constructive skill. The mouth was firmly 
marked and shrewdness and humour lurked there 
as well as in the keen grey eye. His frame was 
compact, well-knit, and rather spare. His hair 
became grey at an early age, and towards the close 
of his life it was of a pure silky whiteness. He 
dressed neatly in black, wearing a white neckcloth ; 
and his face, his person, and his deportment at once 
arrested attention, and marked the Gentleman. 

Tablet in Trinity Church, Chesterfield. 

430 ROBERT Stephenson's retirement [chap xix 

Victoria Bridge, Montreal. 


ROBERT Stephenson's victoria bridge, lower 



George Stephenson bequeathed to his son his 
valuable collieries, his share in the engine manu- 
factory at Newcastle, and his large accumulation of 
savings, which, together with the fortune he had 
himself amassed by railway work, gave Robert the 
position of an engineer millionaire — the first of his 
order. He continued, however, to live in a quiet 
style; and although he bought occasional pictures 
and statues, and indulged in the luxury of a yacht, 
he did not live up to his income, which went on 
rapidly accumulating until his death. 

There was no longer the necessity for applying 
himself to the laborious business of a parliamentary 
engineer, in which he had now been occupied for 
some fifteen years. Shortly after his father s death. 


Edward Pease strongly recommended him to give up 
the more harassing work of his profession ; and his 
reply (15th June, 1850) was as follows : — "The sug- 
gestion which your kind note contains is quite in 
accordance with my own feelings and intentions 
respecting retirement ; but I find it a very difficult 
matter to bring to a close so complicated a connexion 
in business as that which has been established by 
twenty-five years of active and arduous professional 
duty. Comparative retirement is, however, my 
intention; and I trust that your prayer for the 
Divine blessing to grant me happiness and quiet 
comfort will be fulfilled. I cannot but feel deeply 
grateful to the Great Disposer of events for the 
success which has hitherto attended my exertions in 
life ; and I trust that the future will also be marked 
by a continuance of His mercies." 

Although Robert Stephenson, in conformity 
with this expressed intention, for the most part 
declined to undertake new business, he did not 
altogether lay aside his harness; and he lived to 
repeat his tubular bridges both in Lower Canada 
and in Egypt. The success of the tubular system, 
as adopted at Menai and Conway, was such as to 
recommend it for adoption wherever great span was 
required ; and the peculiar circumstances connected 
with the navigation of the St Lawrence and the 
Nile, may be said to have compelled its adoption in 
carrying railways across those great rivers. 

The Victoria Bridge, of which Robert Stephenson 
was the designer and chief engineer, is, without 
exception, the greatest work of the kind in the world. 
For gigantic proportions and vast length and 
strength there is nothing to compare with it in 
ancient or modem times. The entire bridge, with 


its approaches, is only about sixty yards short of 
two mileSf being five times longer than the Britannia 
across the Menai Straits, seven and a half times 
longer than Waterloo Bridge, and more than ten 
times longer than the new Chelsea Bridge across the 
Thames ! It has not less than twenty-four spans of 
242 feet each, and one great central span — itself an 
immense bridge — of 330 feet. The road is carried 
within iron tubes 60 feet above the level of the St 
Lawrence, which runs beneath at a speed of about 
ten miles an hour, and in winter brings down the ice 
of two thousand square miles of lakes and rivers, 
with their numerous tributaries. The weight of iron 
in the tubes is about ten thousand tons, supported 
on massive piers, which contain, some six, and 
others ten thousand tons of solid masonry. 

So gigantic a work, involving so heavy an 
expenditure — about 1,300,000/. — was not projected 
without sufficient cause. The Grand Trunk Rail- 
way of Canada, upwards of 1200 miles in length, 
traverses British North America from the shores of 
the Atlantic to the rich prairie country of the Far 
West. It opens up a vast extent of fertile territory 
for future immigration, and provides a ready means 
for transporting the varied products of the Western 
States to the seaboard. So long as the St. Lawrence 
was relied upon, the inhabitants along the Great 
Valley were precluded from communication with 
each other for nearly six months of the year, during 
which the navigation was closed by the ice. 

The Grand Trunk Railway was designed to 
furnish a line of communication through this great 
district at all seasons ; following the course of the 
St. Lawrence along its north bank, and uniting the 
principal towns of Canada. But stopping short on 


the north shore, it was still an incomplete work ; 
unconnected, except by a dangerous and often 
impracticable ferry, with Montreal, the capital of 
the province, and shut off from connection with the 
United States, as well as with the coast to which 
the commerce of Canada naturally tends. Without 
a bridge at Montreal, therefore, it was felt that the 
system of Canadian railway communication would 
have been incomplete, and the benefits of the Grand 
Trunk Railway in a great measure nugatory. 

As early as 1846 the construction of a bridge 
across the St Lawrence at Montreal was strongly 
advocated by the local press for the purpose of 
directly connecting that city with the then projected 
Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railway. A survey of 
the bridge was made, and the scheme was reported 
to be practicable. A period of colonial depression, 
however, intervened, and although the project was 
not lost sight of, it was not until 1852, when the 
Grand Trunk Railway Company began their ope- 
rations, that there seemed to be any reasonable 
prospect of its being carried out. In that year, Mr. 
A. M. Ross — who had superintended, under Robert 
Stephenson, the construction of the tubular bridge 
over the Conway — ^visited Canada, and inspected the 
site of the proposed bridge, when he readily arrived 
at the conclusion that a like structure was suitable for 
the crossing of the St. Lawrence. He returned to Eng- 
land to confer with Robert Stephenson on the subject, 
and the result was the plan of the Victoria Bridge, 
of which Robert Stephenson was the designer, and 
Mr. A. M. Ross the joint and resident engineer. 

The particular kind of structure to be adopted, 
however, formed the subject of much preliminary 
discussion. Even after the design of a tubular bridge 
V. 2 F 


had been adopted, and the piers were commenced, 
the plan was made the subject of severe criticism, 
on the ground of its alleged excessive cost It 
therefore became necessary for Mr. Stephenson to 
vindicate the propriety of his design in a report 
to the directors of the railway, in which he satis- 
factorily proved that as respected strength, efficiency, 
and economy, with a view to permanency, the plan 
of the Victoria Bridge was unimpeachable. There 
were various methods proposed for spanning the 
St. Lawrence. The suspension bridge, such as that 
over the river Niagara, was found inapplicable for 
several reasons, but chiefly because of its defective 
rigidity, which greatly limited the speed and weight 
of the trains, and consequently the amount of traffic 
which could be passed over such a bridge. Thus, 
taking the length of the Victoria Bridge into account, 
it was found that not more than 20 trains could pass 
within the 24 hours, a number insufficient for the 
accommodation of the anticipated traffic. To intro- 
duce such an amount of material into the suspension 
bridge as would supply increased rigidity, would 
only be approximating to the original beam, and 
neutralizing any advantages in point of cheapness 
which might be derivable from this form of structure, 
without securing the essential stiffness and strength. 
Iron arches were also considered inapplicable, 
because of the large headway required for the 
passage of the ice in winter, and the necessity which 
existed for keeping the springing of the arches clear 
of the water-line. This would have involved the 
raising of the entire road, and a largely increased 
expenditure on the upper works. The question 
was therefore reduced to the consideration of the 
kind of horizontal beam or girder to be employed. 


Horizontal girders are of three kinds. The 
Tubular is constructed of riveted rectangular boiler 
plates. Where the span is large, the road passes 
within the tube; where the span is comparatively 
small, the roadway is supported by two or more 
rectangular beams. Next there is the Lattice girder, 
borrowed from the loose rough timber bridges of 
the American engineers, consisting of a top and 
bottom flange connected by a number of flat iron 
bars, riveted across each other at a certain angle, 
the roadway resting on the top, or being suspended 
at the bottom between the lattice on either side. 
Bridges on the same construction are now extensively 
used for crossing the broad rivers of India, and are 
especially designed with a view to their easy 
transport and erection. The Trellis or Warren 
girder is a modification of the same plan, consisting 
of a top and bottom flange, with a connecting web 
of diagonal flat bars, forming a complete system 
of triangulation — hence the name of " Triangular 
girder," by which it is generally known. The merit 
of this form consists in its comparative rigidity, 
strength, lightness, and economy of material. These 
bridges are also extensively employed in spanning 
the rivers of India. One of the best specimens is 
the Crumlin viaduct, 200 feet high at one point, 
which spans the river and valley of the Ebbw near 
the village of Crumlin in South Wales. This viaduct 
is about a third of a mile long, divided into two 
parts by a ridge of hills which runs through the 
centre of the valley — each part forming a separate 
viaduct, the one of seven equal spans of 1 50 feet, the 
other of three spans of the same diameter. The 
bridge has been very skilfully designed and con- 
structed, and, by reason of its great dimensions and 

2 F 2 


novel arrangements, is entitled to be regarded as 
one of the most remarkable engineering works of 
the day. 

"In calculating the strength of these different 
classes of girders," Mr. Stephenson observed, "one 
ruling principle appertains, and is common to all 
of them. Primarily and essentially, the ultimate 
strength is considered to exist in the top and bottom, 
— the former being exposed to a compression force 
by the action of the load, and the latter to a force 
of tension ; therefore, whatever be the class or 
denomination of girders, they must all be alike in 
amount of effective material in these members, if 
their spans and depths are the same, and they have 
to sustain the same amount of load. Hence, the 
question of comparative merit amongst the different 
classes of construction of beams or girders is really 
narrowed to the method of connecting the top and 
bottom websj so called." In the tubular system the 
connexion is effected by continuous boiler plates 
riveted together ; and in the lattice and trellis 
bridges by flat iron bars, more or less numerous, 
forming a series of struts and ties. Those engineers 
who advocate the employment of the latter form of 
construction, set forth as its principal advantage 
the saving of material which is effected by employing 
bars instead of iron plates ; whereas Mr. Stephenson 
and his followers urge, that in point of economy the 
boiler plate side is equal to the bars, whilst in point 
of effective strength and rigidity it is decidedly 
superior. To show the comparative economy of 
material, he contrasted the lattice girder bridge over 
the river Trent, on the Great Northern Railway 
near Newark, with the tubes of the Victoria Bridge. 
In the former case, where the span is 240J feet, and 


the bridge 13 feet wide, the weight including 
bearings is 292 tons ; in the latter, where the span 
is 242 feet, the width of the tube 16 feet, the weight 
including bearings is 275 tons, showing a balance 
in favour of the Victoria Tube of 17 tons. The 
comparison between the Newark Dyke Bridge and 
the Tubular Bridge over the river Aire is equally 
favourable to the latter; and no one can have 
travelled over the Great Northern line to York 
without noting that, as respects rigidity under the 
passing train, the Tubular Bridge is decidedly 
superior. It is ascertained that the deflection 
caused by a passing load is considerably greater in 
the former case; and Mr. Stephenson was also of 
opinion that the sides of all trellis or lattice girders 
are useless, except for the purpose of connecting the 
top and bottom, and keeping them in their position. 
They depend upon their connexion with the top 
and bottom webs for their own support ; and since 
they could not sustain their shape, but would 
collapse immediately on their being disconnected 
from their top and bottom members, it is evident 
that they add to the strain upon them, and con- 
sequently to that extent reduce the ultimate strength 
of the beams. " I admit." he added, " that there is 
no formula for valuing the solid sides for strains, 
and that at present we only ascribe to them the 
value or use of connecting the top and bottom ; yet 
we are aware that, from their continuity and solidity, 
they are of value to resist horizontal and many other 
strains, independently of the top and bottom, by 
which they add very much to the stiffness of the 
beam ; and the fact of their containing more 
material than is necessary to connect the top and 
bottom webs, has by no means been fairly estab- 


lished." Another important advantage of the 
Tubular bridge over the Trellis or Lattice structure, 
consists in its greater safety in event of a train 
running off the line, — a contingency which has more 
than once occurred on a tubular bridge without 
detriment, whereas in the event of such an accident 
occurring on a Trellis or Lattice bridge, it must in- 
fallibly be destroyed. Where the proposed bridge 
is of the unusual length of a mile and a quarter, it is 
obvious that this consideration must have had no 
small weight with the directors, who eventually 
decided on proceeding with the Tubular Bridge 
according to Mr. Stephenson's original design. 

From the first projection of the Victoria Bridge, 
the difficulties of executing such a work across a 
wide river, down which an avalanche of ice rushes 
to the sea every spring, were pronounced almost 
insurmountable by those best acquainted with the 
locality. The ice of two thousand miles of inland 
lakes and upper rivers, besides their tributaries, is 
then poured down stream, and, in the neighbourhood 
of Montreal especially, it is often piled up to the 
height of from forty to fifty feet, placing the surround- 
ing country under water, and doing severe damage 
to the massive stone buildings along the noble river 
front of the city. To resist so prodigious a 
pressure it was necessary that the piers of the 
proposed bridge should be of the most solid and 
massive description. Their foundations are placed 
in the solid rock; for none of the artificial methods 
oi obtaining foundations, suggested by some 
engineers for cheapness* sake, were found practi- 
cable in this case. Where the force exercised 
against the piers was likely to be so great, it was 
felt that timber ice-breakers, timber or cast-iron 


piling, or even rubble-work, would have proved but 
temporary expedients. The two centre piers are 
eighteen feet wide, and the remaining twenty-two 
piers fifteen feet; to arrest and break the ice, an 
inclined plane, composed of great blocks of stone, 
was added to the up-river side of each pier — each 
block weighing from seven to ten tons, and the whole 
were firmly clamped together with iron rivets. 

To convey some idea of the immense force which 
these piers are required to resist, we may briefly 
describe the breaking up of the ice in March, 1858, 
while the bridge was under construction. Fourteen 
out of the twenty-four piers were then finished, 
together with the formidable abutments and 
approaches to the bridge. The ice in the river 
began to show signs of weakness on the 29th March, 
but it was not until the 31st that a general movement 
became observable, which continued for an hour, 
when it suddenly stopped, and the water rose 
rapidly. On the following day, at noon, a grand 
movement commenced ; the waters rose about four 
feet in two minutes, up to a level with many of the 
Montreal streets. The fields of ice at the same time 
were suddenly elevated to an incredible height ; and 
so overwhelming were they in appearance, that 
crowds of the townspeople, who had assembled on 
the quay to watch the progress of the flood, ran for 
their lives. This movement lasted about twenty 
minutes, during which the jammed ice destroyed 
several portions of the quay-wall, grinding the hard- 
est blocks to atoms. The embanked approaches to 
the Victoria Bridge had tremendous forces to resist. 
In the full channel of the stream, the ice in its passage 
between the piers was broken up by the force of the 
blow immediately on its coming in contact with the 


cutwaters. Sometimes thick sheets of ice were seen 
to rise up and rear on end against the piers, but by 
the force of the current they were speedily made 
to roll over into the stream, and in a moment after 
were out of sight. For the two next days the river 
was still high, until on the 4th April the waters 
seemed suddenly to give way, and by the following 
day the river was flowing clear and smooth as 
a millpond, nothing of winter remaining except the 
masses of bordage ice which were strewn along the 
shores of the stream. On examination of the piers 
of the bridge it was found that they had admirably 
resisted the tremendous pressure ; and though the 
timber '* cribwork " erected to facilitate the placing 
of floating pontoons to form the dams, was found 
considerably disturbed and in some places seriously 
damaged, the piers, with the exception of one or 
two heavy stone blocks, which were still unfinished, 
escaped uninjured. One heavy block of many tons' 
weight was carried to a considerable distance, and 
must have been torn out of its place by sheer force, 
as several of the broken fragments were found left 
in the pier. 

The works in connection with the Victoria 
Bridge were begun on the 22nd July, 1854, when the 
first stone was laid, and continued uninterruptedly 
during a period of 5 J years, until the 17th December, 
1859, when the bridge was finished and taken off the 
contractor's hands. It was formally opened for 
traffic early in i860; though Robert Stephenson did 
not live to see its completion. 

The tubular system was also applied by the same 
engineer, in a modified form, in the two bridges 
across the Nile, near Damietta in Lower Egypt. 
That near Benha contains eight spans or openings 


of 80 feet each, and two centre spans, formed by one 
of the largest swing bridges ever constructed, — the 
total length of the swing-beam being 157 feet, — 
a clear waterway of 60 feet being provided on either 
side of the centre pier. The only novelty in these 
bridges consisted in the road being carried upon the 
tubes instead of within them ; their erection being 
carried out in the usual manner, by means of work- 
men, materials, and plant sent out from England. 

During the later years of his life, Mr. Stephenson 
took considerable interest in public affairs and in 
scientific investigations. In 1847 he entered the 
House of Commons as member for Whitby ; but he 
does not seem to have been very devoted in his 
attendance, and only appeared on divisions when 
there was a "whip" of the party to which he 
belonged. He was a member of the Sanitary and 
Sewage Commissions, and of the Commission which 
sat on Westminster Bridge. The last occasions on 
which he addressed the House were on the Suez 
Canal and the cleansing of the Serpentine. He 
pronounced the Suez Canal to be an impracticable 
scheme. ** I have surveyed the line," said he, " I have 
travelled the whole distance on foot, and I declare 
there is no fall between the two seas. Honourable 
members talk about a canal. A c^nal is impossible 
— the thing would only be a ditch." 

Besides constructing the railway between Alex- 
andria and Cairo, he was consulted, like his father, 
by the King of Belgium, as to the railways of that 
country; and he was made Knight of the Order 
of Leopold because of the improvements which he 
had made in locomotive engines, so much to the 
advantage of the Belgian system of inland transit. 
He was consulted by the King of Sweden as to the 


railway between Christiania and Lake Miosen, and 
in consideration of his services was decorated with 
the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olaf. He also 
visited Switzerland, Piedmont, and Denmark, to 
advise as to the system of railway communication 
best suited for those countries. At the Paris 
Exhibition of 1855 the Emperor of France decorated 
him with the Legion of Honour in consideration of 
his public services ; and at home the University of 
Oxford made him a Doctor of Civil Laws. In 1855 
he was elected President of the Institute of Civil 
Engineers, which office he held with honour and 
filled with distinguished ability for two years, 
giving place to his friend Mr. Locke at the end of 

Mr. Stephenson was frequently called upon to 
act as arbitrator between contractors and railway 
companies, or between one company and another, — 
great value being attached to his opinion on account 
of his weighty judgment, his great experience, and 
his upright character, and we believe his decisions 
were invariably stamped by the qualities of imparti- 
ality and justice. He was always ready to lend a 
helping hand to a friend, and no petty jealousy 
stood between him and his rivals in the engineering 
world. The author remembers being with Mr. 
Stephenson one evening at his house in Gloucester 
Square, when a note was put into his hands from 
his friend Brunei, then engaged in his first fruitless 
eff'orts to launch the Great Eastern, It was to ask 
Stephenson to come down to Blackwall early next 
morning, and give him the benefit of his judgment. 
Shortly after six next morning Stephenson was in 
Scott Russell's building-yard, and he remained 
there until dusk. About midday, while super- 


intending the launching operations, the baulk of 
timber on which he stood canted up, and he fell up 
to his middle in the Thames mud. He was dressed 
as usual, without great-coat (though the day was 
bitter cold), and with only thin boots upon his feet. 
He was urged to leave the yard, and change his 
dress, or at least dry himself; but with his usual 
disregard of health, he replied, "Oh, never mind 
me — Fm quite used to this sort of thing " ; and he 
went paddling about in the mud, smoking his cigar, 
until almost dark, when the day's work was brought 
to an end. The result of this exposure was an 
attack of inflammation of the lungs, which kept him 
to his bed for a fortnight. 

He was habitually careless of his health, and 
perhaps he indulged in narcotics to a prejudicial 
extent. Hence he often became "hipped" and 
sometimes ill. When Mr. Sopwith accompanied 
him to Egypt in the Titania, in 1856, he succeeded 
in persuading Mr. Stephenson to limit his indulgence 
in cigars and stimulants, and the consequence was 
that by the end of the voyage he felt himself, as he 
said, " quite a new man." Arrived at Marseilles, he 
telegraphed from thence a message to Great George 
Street, prescribing certain stringent and salutary 
rules for observance in tke office there on his return. 
But he was of a facile, social disposition, and the 
old associations proved too strong for him. When 
he sailed for Norway, in the autumn of 1859, though 
then ailing in health, he looked a man who had still 
plenty of life in him. By the time he returned, his 
fatal illness had seized him. He was attacked by 
congestion of the liver, which first developed itself 
in jaundice, and then ran into dropsy, of which he 
died on the 12th October, in the fifty-sixth year of 


his age.* He was buried by the side of Telford in 
Westminster Abbey, amidst the departed great men 
of his country, and was attended to his resting-place 

Robert Stephenson's Burial-place in Westminster Abbey. 

by ipany of the intimate friends of his boyhood and 
his manhood. Among those who assembled round 
his grave were some of the greatest men of thought 

* In 1829 Robert Stephenson married Frances, daughter of 
John Sanderson, merchant, London ; but she died in 1842, without 
issue, and Mr. Stepheneon did not marry again. Until the close 
of his life, Robert Stephenson was accustomed twice in every year 
to visit his wife^s grave in Hampstead churchyard. 


and action in England, who embraced the sad occa- 
sion to pay the last mark of their respect to this 
illustrious son of one of England's greatest working 

It would be out of keeping with the subject thus 
drawn to a conclusion, to pronounce any panegyric 
on the character and achievements of George and 
Robert Stephenson. These for the most part 
speak for themselves. Both were emphatically 
true men, exhibiting in their lives many sterling 
qualities. No beginning could have been less 
promising than that of the elder Stephenson. 
Bom in a poor condition, yet rich in spirit, he was 
from the first compelled to rely upon himself; and 
every step of advance which he made was conquered 
by patient labour. Whether working as a brakes- 
man or an engineer, his mind was always full of 
the work in hand. He gave himself thoroughly 
up to it. Like the painter, he might say that he 
had become great "by neglecting nothing." What- 
ever he was engaged upon, he was as careful of the 
details as if each were itself the whole. He did all 
thoroughly and honestly. There was no " scamping " 
with him. When a workman he put his brains and 
labour into his work; and when a master he put 
his conscience and character into it. He would 
have no slop-work executed merely for the sake 
of profit. The materials must be as genuine as 
the workmanship was skilful. The structures which 
he designed and executed were distinguished for 
their thoroughness and solidity ; his locomotives 
were famous for their durability and excellent 
working qualities. The engines which he sent 
to the United States in 1832 are still in good con- 
dition ; and even the engines built by him for the 


Killingworth Colliery, upwards of thirty years ago, 
are working steadily there to this day. All his 
work was honest, representing the actual character 
of the man. 

He was ready to turn his hand to anything — 
shoes and clocks, railways and locomotives. He 
contrived his safety-lamp with the object of saving 
pitmen's lives, and perilled his own life in testing 
it. Whatever work was nearest him, he turned 
to and did it. With him to resolve was to do. 
Many men knew far more than he ; but none were 
more ready forthwith to apply what he did know 
to practical purposes. It was while working at 
Willington as a brakesman that he first learnt how 
best to handle a spade in throwing ballast out of 
the ships* holds. This casual employment seems 
to have left upon his mind the strongest impression 
of what " hard work " was ; and he often used to 
revert to it, and say to the young men about him, 
" Ah, ye lads ! there's none o' ye know what wark 
is." Mr. Gooch says he was proud of the dexterity 
in handling a spade which he had thus acquired, 
and that he has frequently seen him take the shovel 
from a labourer in some railway cutting, and show 
him how to use it more deftly in filling waggons of 
earth, gravel, or sand. Sir Joshua Walmsley has 
also informed us, that, when examining the works 
of the Orleans and Tours Railway, Mr. Stephenson, 
seeing a large number of excavators filling and 
wheeling sand in a cutting, at a great waste of time 
and labour, went up to the men and said he would 
show them how to fill their barrows in half the time. 
He showed them the proper position in which to 
stand so as to exercise the greatest amount of power 
with the least expenditure of strength ; and he filled 


the barrow with comparative ease again and again 
in their presence, to the great delight of the work- 
men. When passing through his own workshops, 
he would point out to his men how to save labour, 
and to get through their work skilfully and with 
ease. His energy imparted itself to others, quicken- 
ing and influencing them as strong characters always 
do — flowing down into theirs, and bringing out 
their best powers. 

His deportment towards the workmen employed 
under him was familiar, yet firm and consistent. 
As he respected their manhood, so did they respect 
his masterhood. Although he comported himself 
towards his men as if they occupied verj^ much the 
same level as himself, he yet possessed that peculiar 
capacity for governing which enabled him always 
to preserve among them the strictest discipline, and 
to secure their cheerful and hearty services. Mr. 
Ingham, M.P. for South Shields, on going over the 
workshops at Newcastle, was particularly struck 
with this quality of the master in his bearing towards 
his men. "There was nothing," said he, " of undue 
familiarity in their intercourse, but they spoke to 
each other as man to man ; and nothing seemed to 
please the master more than to point out illustrations 
of the ingenuity of his artisans. He took up a rivet 
and expatiated on the skill with which it had been 
fashioned by the workman's hand — its perfectness 
and truth. He was always proud of his workmen 
and his pupils ; and, while indifferent and careless 
as to what might be said of himself, he fired up in 
a moment if disparagement were thrown upon any 
one whom he had taught or trained." 

In manner, George Stephenson was simple, 
modest, and unassuming, but always manly. He 


was frank and social in spirit When a humble 
workman, he had carefully preserved his sense of 
self-respect. His companions looked up to him, 
and his example was worth even more to many 
of them than books or schools. His devoted love 
of knowledge made his poverty respectable, and 
adorned his humble calling. When he rose to a 
more elevated station, and associated with men of 
the highest position and influence in Britain, he 
took his place amongst them with perfect self- 
possession. They wondered at the quiet ease and 
simple dignity of his deportment ; and men in the 
best ranks of life have said of him that " He was 
one of Nature's gentlemen." 

Probably no military chiefs were ever more 
beloved by their soldiers than were both father and 
son by the army of men who, under their guidance, 
worked at labours of profit, made labours of love by 
their earnest will and purpose. True leaders of 
men and lords of industry, they were always ready 
to recognise and encourage talent in those who 
worked for and with them. Thus it was pleasant, 
at the openings of the Stephenson lines, to hear the 
chief engineers attributing the successful completion 
of the works to their able assistants; whilst the 
assistants, on the other hand, ascribed the glory to 
their chiefs. 

Mr. Stephenson, though a thrifty and frugal man, 
was essentially unsordid. His rugged path in early 
life made him careful of his resources. He never 
saved to hoard, but saved for a purpose, such as the 
maintenance of his parents or the education of his 
son. In later years he became a prosperous and 
even a wealthy man; but riches never closed his 
heart, nor stole away the elasticity of his soul. He 


enjoyed life cheerfully, because hopefully. When 
he entered upon a commercial enterprise, whether 
for others or for himself, he looked carefully at the 
ways and means. Unless they would "pay," he 
held back. "He would have nothing to do," he 
declared, "with stock-jobbing speculations." His 
refusal to sell his name to the schemes of the rail- 
way mania — his survey of the Spanish lines without 
remuneration — his offer to postpone his claim for 
payment from a poor company until their affairs 
became more prosperous— are instances of the un- 
sordid spirit in which he acted. 

Another marked feature in Mr. Stephenson's 
character was his patience. Notwithstanding the 
strength of his convictions as to the great uses 
to which the locomotive might be applied, he 
waited long and patiently for the opportunity 
of bringing it into notice; and for years after 
he had completed an efficient engine he went 
on quietly devoting himself to the ordinary work 
of the colliery. He made no noise nor stir 
about his locomotive, but allowed another to take 
credit for the experiments on velocity and friction 
made with it by himself upon the Killingworth 

By patient industry and laborious contrivance, 
he was enabled,-with the powerful help of his son, 
to do for the locomotive what James Watt had done 
for the condensing engine. He found it clumsy and 
inefficient ; and he made it powerful, efficient, and 
useful. Both have been described as the improvers 
of their respective engines ; but, as to all that is 
admirable in their structure or vast in their utility, 
they are rather entitled to be described as their 
Inventors. While the invention of Watt increased 

V. 2 G 


the power, and at the same time so regulated the 
action of the steam-engine, as to make it capable of 
being applied alike to the hardest work and to the 
finest manufactures, the invention of Stephenson 
gave an effective power to the locomotive, which 
enabled it to perform the work of teams of the 
most powerful horses, and to outstrip the speed of 
the fleetest Watt's invention exercised a wonder- 
fully quickening influence on every branch of in- 
dustry, and multiplied a thousand-fold the amount 
of manufactured productions; and Stephenson's 
enabled these to be distributed with an economy 
and despatch such as had never before been thought 
possible. They have both tended to increase 
indefinitely the mass of human comforts and 
enjoyments, and to render them cheap and acces- 
sible to all. But Stephenson's invention, by 
the influence which it is daily exercising upon 
the civilisation of the world, is even more remark- 
able than that of Watt, and is calculated to 
have still more important consequences. In this 
respect, it is to be regarded as the grandest 
application of steam power that has yet been 

The Locomotive, like the condensing engine, 
exhibits the realisation of various capital, but 
wholly distinct, ideas, promulgated by many 
ingenious inventors. Stephenson, like Watt, 
exhibited a power of selection, combination, and in- 
vention of his own, by which — while availing him- 
self of all that had been done before him, and 
superadding the many skilful contrivances devised 
by himself— he was at length enabled to bring his 
engine into a condition of marvellous power and 
efficiency. He gathered together the scattered 


threads of ingenuity which already existed, and 
combined them into one firm and complete fabric 
of his own. He realised the plans which others 
had imperfectly formed; and was the first to con- 
struct, what so many others had unsuccessfully 
attempted, the practical and economical working 

Mr. Stephenson's close and accurate observa- 
tion provided him with a fulness of information on 
many subjects, which often appeared surprising to 
those who had devoted to them a special study. 
On one occasion the accuracy of his knowledge of 
birds came out in a curious way at a convivial meet- 
ing of railway men in London. The engineers and 
railway directors present knew each other as rail- 
way men and nothing more. The talk had been 
all of railways and railway politics. Mr. Stephenson 
was a great talker on those subjects, and was 
generally allowed, from the interest of his conver- 
sation and the extent of his experience, to take the 
lead. At length one of the party broke in with — 
" Come now, Stephenson, we have had nothing but 
railways ; cannot we have a change and try if we 
can talk a little about something else?" '*Well, " 
said Mr. Stephenson, "Til give you a wide range 
of subjects ; what shall it be about ? " " Say bird^ 
nests ! " rejoined the other, who prided himself on 
his special knowledge of this subject. " Then birds' 
nests be it. " A long and animated conversation 
ensued : the bird-nesting of his boyhood, the black- 
bird's nest which his father had held him up in his 
arms to look at when a child at Wylam, the hedges 
in which he had found the thrush's and the linnet's 
nests, the mossy bank where the robin built, the 
cleft in the branch of the young tree where the 

2 G 2 


chaffinch had reared its dwelling — all rose up clear 
in his mind's eye, and led him back to the scenes of 
his boyhood at Callerton and Dewley Bum. The 
colour and number of the birds* eggs, the period of 
their incubation, the materials employed by them 
for the walls and lining of their nests, were described 
by him so vividly, and illustrated by such graphic 
anecdotes, that one of the party remarked that, if 
George Stephenson had not been the greatest 
engineer of his day, he might have been one of the 
greatest naturalists. 

His powers of conversation were very great. 
He was so thoughtful, so original, and so sugges- 
tive. There was scarcely a department of science 
on which he had not formed some novel and some- 
times daring theory. Thus Mr. Gooch, his pupil, 
who lived with him when at Liverpool, informs us 
that when sitting over the fire, he would frequently 
broach his favourite theory of the sun's light and 
heat being the original source of the light and heat 
given forth by the burinng coal. " It fed the plants 
of which that coal is made," he would say, "and 
has been bottled up in the earth ever since, to 
be given out again now for the use of man." His 
son Robert once said of him, *' My father flashed 
his bull's eye full upon a subject, and brought it 
out in its most vivid light in an instant : his strong 
common sense, and his varied experience operating 
upon a thoughtful mind, were his most powerful 

Mr. Stephenson had once a conversation with 
a watch maker, whom he astonished by the extent 
and minuteness of his knowledge as to the parts 
of a watch. The watchmaker knew him to be an 
eminent engineer, and asked him how he had 


acquired so extensive a knowledge of a branch of 
business so much out of his sphere. " It is very 
easy to be explained," said Mr. Stephenson ; " I 
worked long at watch-cleaning myself, and when 
I was at a loss, I was never ashamed to ask for 

Towards the close of his life he frequently went 
down to Newcastle, and visited the scenes of his 
boyhood. " I have been to Callerton," said he one 
day to a friend, " and seen the fields in which I used 
to pull turnips at twopence a day ; and many a cold 
finger, I can tell you, I had." 

His hand was open to his former fellow-work- 
men whom old age had left in poverty. To poor 
Robert Gray, of Newbum, who acted as his brides- 
man on his marriage to Fanny Henderson, he left 
a pension for life. He would slip a five-pound note 
into the hand of a poor man or a widow in such 
a way as not to offend their delicacy, but to make 
them feel as if the obligation were all on his side. 
When Farmer Paterson, who married a sister of 
George's first wife, Fanny Henderson, died and 
left a large young family fatherless, poverty stared 
them in the face. " But ye ken," said our informant, 
" George struck in fayther for them'' And perhaps 
the providential character of the act could not 
have been more graphically expressed than in these 
simple words. 

On his visit to Newcastle, he would frequently 
meet the friends of his early days, occupying very 
nearly the same station, whilst he had meanwhile 
risen to almost world-wide fame. But he was 
no less hearty in his greeting of them than if 
their relative position had continued the same. 
Thus, one day, after shalflng hands with Mr. 

454 ROBERT Stephenson's character [chap xix 

Brandling on alighting from his carriage, he pro- 
ceeded to shake hands with his coachman, Anthony 
Wigham, a still older friend, though he only sat on 
the box. 

Robert Stephenson inherited his father's kindly 
spirit and benevolent disposition. He almost wor- 
shipped his father's memory, and was ever ready to 
attribute to him the chief merit of his own achieve- 
ments as an engineer. "It was his thorough 
training," we once heard him say, ** his example, and 
his character, which made me the man I am." On 
a more public occasion he said, " It is my great pride 
to remember, that whatever may have been done, 
and however extensive may have been my own 
connection with railway development, all I know 
and all I have done is primarily due to the parent 
whose memory I cherish and revere."* To Mr. 
Lough, the sculptor, he said he had never had 
but two loves — one for his father, the other for 
his wife. 

Like his father, he was eminently practical, and 
yet always open to the influence and guidance 
of correct theory. His main consideration in 
laying out his lines of railway was what would 
best answer the intended purpose, or, to use his 
own words, to secure the maximum of result 
with the minimum of means. He was pre-emi- 
nently a safe man, because cautious, tentative, 
and experimental ; following closely the lines of 
conduct trodden by his father, and often quoting 
his maxims. 

In Society Robert Stephenson was simple, 

* Address as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 
January, 1856. 


unobtrusive, and modest; but charming and even 
fascinating in an eminent degree. Sir John 
Lawrence has said of him that he was, of all others, 
the man he most delighted to meet in England — 
he was so manly, yet gentle, and withal so great. 
While admired and beloved by men of such calibre, 
he was equally a favourite with women and children. 
He put himself upon the level of all, and charmed 
them no less by his inexpressible kindliness of 
manner than by his simple yet impressive con- 

His great wealth enabled him to perform many 
generous acts in a right noble and yet modest 
manner, not letting his right hand know what his 
left hand did. Of the numerous kindly acts of his 
which have been made public, we may mention the 
graceful manner in which he repaid the obligations 
which both himself and his father owed to the New- 
castle Literary and Philosophical Institute, when 
working together as humble experimenters in 
their cottage at Killingworth. The Institute was 
struggling under a debt of 6200/. which seriously 
impaired its usefulness as an educational agency. 
Robert Stephenson offered to pay one half of the 
sum, provided the local supporters of the Institute 
would raise the remainder; and conditional also 
on the annual subscription being reduced from 
two guineas to one, in order that the useful- 
ness of the institution might be extended. The 
generous offer was accepted, and the debt extin- 

Both father and son were offered knighthood, and 
both declined it During the summer of 1847, 
George Stephenson was invited to offer himself as a 
candidate for the representation of South Shields in 

45 6 GEORGE Stephenson's politics [chap xix 

Parliament But his politics were at best of a very 
undefined sort ; indeed his life had been so much 
occupied with subjects of a practical character, that 
he had scarcely troubled himself to form any decided 
opinion on the party political topics of the day, and 
to stand the cross fire of the electors on the hustings 
might have been found an even more distressing 
ordeal than the cross-questioning of the barristers 
in the Committees of the House of Commons. 
" Politics," he used to say, " are all matters of theory 
— there is no stability in them; they shift about 
like the sands of the sea : and I should feel quite 
out of my element amongst them." He had accord- 
ingly the good sense respectfully to decline the 
honour of contesting the representation of South 

We have, however, been informed by Sir Joseph 
Paxton, that although George Stephenson held no 
strong opinions on political questions generally, 
there was one question on which he entertained 
a decided conviction, and that was the question 
of Free Trade. The words used by him on one 
occasion to Sir Joseph were very strong. " England," 
said he, "is, and must be a shopkeeper; and our 
docks and harbours are only so many wholesale 
shops, the doors of which should always be kept 
wide open." It is curious that his son Robert 
should have taken precisely the opposite view 
of this question, and acted throughout with the 
most rigid party amongst the protectionists, sup- 
porting the Navigation Laws and opposing Free 

But Robert Stephenson will be judged in after 
times by his achievements as an engineer, rather 
than by his acts as a politician; and happily 


these last were far outweighed in value by the 
immense practical services which he rendered 
to trade, commerce, and civilisation, through the 
facilities which the railways constructed by him 
afforded for free intercommunication between 
men in all parts of the world. Speaking in the 
midst of his friends at Newcastle, in 1850, he 
observed : — 

"It seems to me but as yesterday that I was 
engaged as an assistant in laying out the Stockton 
and Darlington Railway. Since then, the Liverpool 
and Manchester and a hundred other great works 
have sprung into existence. As I look back upon 
these stupendous undertakings, accomplished in so 
short a time, it seems as though we had realised in 
our generation the fabled powers of the magician's 
wand. Hills have been cut down and valleys filled 
up; and when these simple expedients have not 
sufficed, high and magnificent viaducts have been 
raised, and if mountains stood in the way, tunnels of 
unexampled magnitude have pierced them through, 
bearing their triumphant attestation to the indomi- 
table energy of the nation, and the unrivalled skill 
of our artisans." 

As respects the immense advantages of railways 
to mankind, there cannot be two opinions. They 
exhibit, probably, the grandest organisation of 
capital and labour that the world has yet seen. 
Although they have unhappily occasioned great loss 
to many, the loss has been that of individuals ; 
whilst, as a national system, the gain has already 
been enormous. As tending to multiply and spread 
abroad the conveniences of life, opening up new 
fields of industry, bringing nations nearer to 
each other, and thus promoting the great ends 



of civilisation, the founding of the railway system 
by George Stephenson and his son must be 
regarded as one of the most important events, if 
not the very greatest, in the first half of this 
nineteenth century. 

The Stephenson Memorial Schools, WilUngton Quay. 



Accidents in coal-mines, io6, 142. 

Adam, Mr., counsel for Liverpool 
and Manchester Railway, 192, 200. 

Alderson, Mr. (afterwards Baron), 
192, 196, 198, 201. 

Alton Grange, G. Stephenson's resi- 
dence at, 282-^, 316. 

Ambergate Railway slip, 311 ; Lime- 
worlK, 334. 

Anna, Santa, mines at, 236. 

Arnold, Dr., on Railways, 329. 

Ashby-de-la-Zouch, 281. 

Atmospheric Railway system, 344, 

Beaumont, Mr., his wooden waggon- 
ways, 5. 

Belgium, G. Stephenson's visit to, 355. 

Benton Colliery and village, 53, 56, 
60, 73. 

Berwick Royal Border Bridge, 375. 

Birds and bird-nesting, 17, 18, 20, 29, 
68, 425, 45>- 

Birmingham and Derby Railway, 323. 

Bishop Auckland coal-field, 147. 

Black Callerton, 21, 31, 34, 38. 

Blackett, Mr., Wylam, 15, 88. 

Blast, invention of the Steam, 102, 
251, 254. 

Blenkinsop's Locomotive, 86, 96. 

Blisworth Cutting, 292. 

Boiler, multitubular, 253. 

Booth, Henry, Liverpool, 252, 268. 

Bradshaw, Mr., opposes Liverpool 
and Manchester line, 186. 

Braithwaite, Isaac, Locomotive, 258, 

Brakeing coal-engine, 32, 43, 48. 
Brandling, Messrs., 125, 376. 
Brandreth's Locomotive, " Cycloped," 



Bridges, Railway, on Liverpool line, 
223 ; improved bridges, 374-^5 ; 
tubular bridges, 393-410, 433. 

Bridgewater Canal monopoly, 176, 189. 

Britannia Tubular Bridge, 407. 

British Association Meeting at New- 
castle, 336. 

Brougham, Mr. William, counsel on 
Liverpool and Manchester Bill, 
190, 192. 

Bruce's School, Newcastle, 62, 70. 

Brunei, I. K., 277, 366, 442. 

Brunton's Locomotive, 87. 

Brussels, railway celebrations at, 322. 

Brusselton incline, 161. 

Buckland, Dr., 421, 422. 

BuUbridge, Ambergate, 313. 

Burstall's Locomotive, " Perseve- 
rance," 258, 263. 

Callerton Colliery and village, 21, 

31, 34, 38. 
Canal opposition to Railways, 176, 

1 09* 280. 
Cartagena, R. Stephenson ^t, 241. 
Chapman's Locomotive, 87. 
Characteristics of the Stephensons, 

Chat Moss, William James's attempted 

Survey, 183 ; Mr. Harrison's speech, 

199; evidence of Francis Giles, C.E., 

201 ; Mr. Alderson's speech, 201 ; 

description of, 209 ; construction of 

Railway over, 213. 
Chester and Birkenhead Railway, 144. 
— ^— — Holyhead Railway, 386. 
Chesterfield, 335, 338. 
Clanny, Dr., his safety-lamp, no. 
Clark, Edwin, C.E., 399, 403* 408. 
Clay Cross Colliery, G. Stephenson 

leases, 334. 




Clegg and Samuda's Atmospheric Rail- 
way, 345- 

Clephan, Mr., description of first rail- 
way traffic, 168. 

Cleveland, Duke of, and Stockton and 
Darlington Railway, 149. 

Clock -mending and cleaning, 42, 61, 

Coach, first railway, 166. 

Coal, — trade, 3, 12; staiths, 12 ; haul- 
age, early expedients for, 5, 8, 75, 
171 ; traffic by Railway, 165, 332 ; 
mining, George Stephenson's adven- 
tures in, 282, 334 ; theory of for- 
mation of, 421-23. 

Coalbrookdale, rails early cast at, 6. 

Coe, Wm., fellow workman of G. 
Stephenson, 24, 30, 37. 

Coffin, Sir I., 206. 

Colliery districts, 1-5 ; machinery and 
workmen, 8-13. 

Colombia, mining association of, 233 ; 
Robert Stephenson's residence in, 


Contractors, railway, 275, 299. 

Conway, tubular bridge at, 401. 

Cooper, Sir Astley, Robert Stephen- 
son's interview with, 287. 

Crich Lime- works, Ambergate, 334. 

Cropper, Isaac, Liverpool, 224, 261. 

Cugnot's steam-carriage, 76-9. 

Curr, John, his cast-iron Railway at 
Sheffield, 7. 

Cuttings, railway, — Tring, 292 ; Blis- 
worOi, 292 ; Ambergate, 312 ; 
OakensAaw and Normanton, 312. 

" Cycloped " Locomotive, 258. 

Darlington and Stockton Railway, 

147, 163. 
Davy, Sir Humphry, his description of 

Trevithick's steam-carriage, 82 ; his 

paper on fire-damp in mines, 1 10 ; 

nis safety-lamp, 120-24; testimonial, 

Denman, Lord, 415, 416. 
Derby, Earl of, 207. 
Dewley Bum Colliery, 19. 
Direct lines, mania for, 351, 
Dixon, John, C.E., assists in survey of 

Stockton and Darlington line, 162 ; 


assistant engineer, Liverpool and 

Manchester Railway, 210-15. 
Dodds, Ralph, Killingworth, 50-2, 55, 

59. 103. 
Drayton Manor, George Stephenson's 

visit to, 421. 
Dutton Viaduct, 306. 
Durham, Earl of. See Lambton. 

East Coast Railway to Scotland, 


Edgworth, Mr., sailing- waggons, 76; 
advocacy of Railways, 177. 

EdinburghUniversity, Robert Stephen- 
son at, 144. 

Education, George Stephenson's self- 
education, 28, 56 ; Robert Stephen- 
son's, 59, 144 ; George Stephenson's 
ideas of, 230, 338. 

Egg-hatching by artificial heat, 27, 

Egyptian Tubular Bridges, Robert 
Stephenson's, 431. 

Emerson, George Stephenson's meeting 
with, 424, 425. 

Emigration, George Stephenson con- 
templates, 47, 139. 

Engine, study of, 26, 73, 92, 95. 

Ericsson, Mr., engineer, 246, 258. 

Estimates, railway, 198, 299. 

'* Experiment," the first railway coach, 

Explosion of fire-damp, 106. 

Evans's steam-carriage, 78. 

Fairbairn, Wm., C.E., 33 ; at Percy 

Main Colliery, 41 ; experiments on 

iron tubes, 396-98. 
Fire-damp, explosions of, 106. 
Fixed-engine power, 141, 154, 161, 

244, 247. 
Floating road, Chat Moss, 211. 
Floating Conway and Britannia Tubes, 

Follett, Sir Wm., 421, 422. 
Forth-street Works, Newcastle, 157, 

Foster, Jonathan, Wylam, 90, 92, 

Franklin's lightning experiment re- 
peated by Robert Stephenson, 67. 




Free trade, George Stephenson's views 
on, 456. 

Friction on common roads and Rail- 
ways, 136. 

Gardening, George Stephenson's 

pursuits in, 69, 412. 
Gateshead, 4, 379. 
Gauge of Railways, 160, 367. 
"Geordy" safety-lamp, invention of, 

Giles, Francis, C.E., 201, 209, 277. 
Gooch, F. L., C.E., 226, 229, 264, 

405, 446. 
Gradients, George Stephenson's views 

on, 138, 342. 
Grand Allies, Killingworth, 49, 54. 

Junction Railway, 277, 306. 

Trunk Railway, Canada, 432. 

Gray, Robert, 29, 43, 453. 

, Thomas, 177. 

Great Western Railway, 277, 279, 


Hackvvorth, Timothy, his engine 
"Sanspareil," 258, 260. 262. 

Half-lap joint, G. Stephenson's, 132. 

Harrison, Mr., barrister, 192, 199. 

Hawthorn, Robert, C.E., 25. 

Heating surface in Locomotives, 250, 

Hedley, William, Wylam, 92. 

Henderson, Fanny, 33, 38. 

Heppel, Kit, 50, 54. 

Hetton Railway, 139. 

High Level Bridge, Newcastle, 2, 376. 

Street House, Wylam, 15. 

Holyhead, Railway to, 386. 

Howick, I^ord, and the Northumber- 
land Atmospheric Railway, 371, 

„372, 373- 

Hudson, George, the Railway Kmg, 
351, 376. 

Huskisson, Mr., M.P., and the Liver- 
pool and Manchester Railway, 206 ; 
killed at its opening, 269. 

Hydraulic presses at the Britannia 
Bridge, 406. 

Inclines, self-acting, 11, 73. 
Iron railway bridges, 377, 392. 


James, William, surveys a line be- 
tween Liverpool and Manchester, 
180 ; visits Killingworth, 181 ; 
superseded by George Stephenson, 

Jameson, Professor, Edinburgh, 145. 

Jessop, William, C.E., 7. 

Jolly's Close, Newburn, 23, 28. 

Jones, Rees, on Trevithick's Locomo- 
tive, 84. 

Keelmen of the Tyne, 12. 

Killingworth, West Moor, 37, 44, 45, 
47 ; High Pit, 49 ; Locomotive, 
100, 105 ; colliery explosions and 
mining, 106 ; the underground ma- 
chinery, 130. 

Kilsby Tunnel, 295. 

Lambton, Mr. (Earl of Durham), 

Lamp, safety, invention of, no. 

Last-making competition, 70. 

Lardner, Dr., and Railways, 342, 345. 

Lattice Girder Bridges, 435. 

Leeds Mechanics' Institute, George 
Stephenson's Speech at, 338. 

Leicester and Swannington Railway, 

Lemington Coal-staith, 88. 

Leopold, King of the Belgians, and 
Railways, 321 ; George Stephen- 
son's interviews with, 322, '356. 

Level Railways, advantages of, 137, 

Liddell, Sir T. (Lord Ravensworth), 


Lime-works at Ambergate, George 
Stephenson's, 334. 

Literary and Philosophical Institute, 
Newcastle, 63, 122, 336, 428, 455. 

Littleborough Tunnel, 307. 

Liverpool and Manchester Railway 
projected, 176 ; surveyed by Wm. 
James, 180; the survey opposed, 
180, 181 ; George Stephenson en- 
gagetl, 185 ; prospectus issued, 186 ; 
deputations visit Killingworth, 181, 
184, 186 ; opposition of the land- 
owners and canal companies, 188, 
t 189 ; the bill in committee, 192 ; 




rejected, 203 ; scheme prosecuted, 
204; Messrs. Rennie appointad 
engineers, 205 ; the bill passed, 
207 ; George Stephenson again en- 
gaged as engineer, 208 ; construc- 
tion of the line across Chat Moss, 
212 ; discussions as to the working 
power to be employed, 244 ; George 
Stephenson advocates the Locomo- 
tive, 245 ; prixe of 500/. for best 
engine, 249 ; won by Stephenson's 
'* Rocket," 263 ; public opening of 
the line, 268 ; results of the tn^c, 

274, 275. 

Locke, Mr. Joseph, C.E., 31, 210, 

** Ix>comotion " engine, No. I., Dar- 
lington, 161, 170. 

Locomotive engine, invention of, 8 ; 
Robison and Watt's idea, Cugnot's 
steam-carriage, 76 ; Evans and 
Symington's, 78 ; Murdock's model, 

78 ; Trevithick's steam-carriage, 

79 ; his tram engine, 82, 89 ; 
Blenkinsop's engine, 86 ; Chap- 
man and Brunton's engines, 87 ; 
Blackett's Wylam engine, 89 ; 
Kenton and Coxlodge engine, 96 ; 
Stephenson's Killingworth locomo- 
tive, 97, 103 ; Stockton and Dar- 
lington locomotives, 161 ; prize at 
Liverpool for the best engine, 249 ; 
won by the "Rocket," 263; the 
"Arrow," 267 ; further improve- 
ments, 272. 

manufactory, Stephenson's, 

at Newcastle, 157, 232, 240, 373. 

I^ong Benton. See Benton. 

London and Birmingham Railway 
projected, 285 ; the Stephensons 
appointed engineers, 286 ; opposi- 
tion to the Bill, Sir Astley Cooper, 
287 ; the Bill rejected, 289 ; Bill 
passed, 290 ; the works, 291 ; 
Tring Cutting, 292 ; Blisworth 
Cutting, 292 ; Primrose Hill Tun- 
nel, 294 ; Kilsby Tunnel, 295 ; 
magnitude of the works, 299. 

Losh, Mr., Newcastle, 133, 182. 

Lough's statue of George Stephenson, 


Manchester and Leeds Railway, 
307 J the Act obtained, 307 ; con- 
struction of Summit Tunnel, 509 ; 
magnitude of the works, 309. 

■ trade with Liverpool, 

increase of, 175, 185. 

Mania, the Railway, 347. 

Maps, — Newcastle district, 2 ; Stock- 
ton and Darlington Railway, 147 ; 
Liverpool and Manchester Railway, 
180, 181 ; Leicester and Swanning- 
ton Railway, 280 ; London and 
Birmingham Railway, 291 ; Menai 
Strait, 391. 

Mariquita, Robert Stephenson at, 235. 

Mechanical Engineers, Society of, 426, 

Mechanics' Institutes, George Stephen- 
son's interest in, 337. 

Menai Suspension Bridge, 387 ; Kail- 
way Bridge, 399. 

Merstham Tranuroad, 183. 

Microscope, George Stephenson's, 417. 

Middlesborough-on-Tees, 172. 

Middleton Railway, Leeds, 86, 178. 

Midland Railway, 310. 

Militia, G. Stephenson drawn for, 

Mining, coal, 3, 8, 109; in South 

America, 237. 
Montrose, G. Stephenson at, 45. 
Moodie, underviewer at Killingworth, 

112-15, 142. 
Morecambe Bay, proposed reclamation 

of, 315. 
Moreton-on-the-Marsh Railway, 183. 
Multitubular boiler, 253. 
Murdock's model Locomotive, 78. 
Murray, Matthew, Leeds, 86. 

Nasmyth's steam-hammer, 376, 3«i. 
Navvies, railway, 300-4. 
Nelson, the fighting pitman, 34. 
Newburn Colliery, 24, 25. 
Newcastle and Berwick Railway, 369. 

and Carlisle Railway, 14, 


and Darlington Railway, 


Newcastle-on-Tyne in ancient times, 
1-3 ; Literary and Philosophical 




Institute, 63, 122, 336, 428, 455 ; 
Stephenson jubilees at, 369, 373 ; 
High Level Bridge, 376; George 
Stephenson's statue, 427. 
Newcomen's atmospheric engine, 9, 


Nile, R. Stephenson's tubular bridges 
over, 431. 

North Midland Railway, 310, 314. 

North, Roger, description of early 
tram-roa£, 5. 

Northampton, opposition of, to Rail- 
ways, 279. 

Northumbierland Atmospheric Rail- 
way, 371. 

"Novelty," Locomotive, 258, 260, 
262, 277. 

Olive Mount Cuttmg, Liverpool, 

Openings of Railways, — Hetton, 141 ; 
Stockton and Darlington, 163 ; 
Middlesborough, 171 ; Liverpool 
and Manchester, 268 ; London and 
Birmingham, 323 ; Birmingham 
and Derby, 323 ; East Coast route 
to Scotland, 384 ; Britannia Bridge, 
409 ; Trent Valley, 423. 

Organization of labour, G. Stephen- 
son's, 219, 267, 271. 

Outram, B^j., Little Eaton, 7. 

Parliament and Railways, 3J1, 353. 

Parr Moss, Railway across, 218. 

Passenger traffic of early Railways, 
165, 187, 191. 

Paxton, Sir Joseph, 456. 

Pease, Edward, projects the Stockton 
and Darlington Railway, 148 ; first 
interview with George Stephenson, 
150 ; visits Killingworth, 154 ; joins 
Stephenson in Locomotive Manu- 
factory, 158, 240, 243 ; Stephen- 
son's esteem and gratitude, 174 ; 
letters to Robert Stephenson, 240, 

305, 430. 
Peel, Sir Robert, 268, 270, 352, 353. 
Penmaen Mawr, Railway under, 388. 
Permanent wav of Railroads, 131. 
Perpetual motion, George Stephenson 

studies, 40, 57. 


"Perseverance," Burstall's Locomo- 
tive, 258, 263. 

Phillips, Sir K., speculations on Rail- 
ways, 177, 178. 

Pile-driving by steam, 376, 381. 

Pitmen, Northumbrian, 10. 

"Planet," Locomotive, 274. 

Plu^an, duties of, 26. 

Pohtics, George and Robert Stephen- 
son's, 455, 456. 

Primrose Hill Tunnel, 294. 

Prophecies of railway failure, 189, 
199, 200, 206. 

Pumping-engines, George Stephen- 
son's skill in, 45, 49, 52, 297. 

Pupils, George Stephenson's, 229-31, 

Pyrenean Pastoral, 359. 

'Quarterly,' the, on railway speed, 

Queen, the, her first use of the Rail- 
way, 330 ; opens* the High Level and 
Royal Border Bridges, 384; visits 
the Britannia Bridge, 408. 

Rails, cast and wrought iron, 6, 

Railways,— early, 5-8; Merthyr Tydfil 
(Pen-y-darran), 82, 85 ; Middleton, 
Leeds, 86; Wylam, 88; Killing- 
worth, 100, 138 ; Hetton, 141 ; 
Stockton and Darlington, 147 ; 
Liverpool and Manchester, 268 ; 
Grand Junction, 277, 306 ; Great 
Western, and Leicester and Swan- 
nington, 279 ; London and Birming- 
ham, 285; Navvies, 300; Manches- 
ter and Leeds, 307 ; Midland, 310 ; 
York and North Midland, 314 ; 
travelling, 326-30 ; undulating, 342; 
atmospheric, 344 ; Chester and Bir- 
kenhoul, 344 ; mania, 347 ; New- 
castle and Berwick, and Newcastle 
and Darlington, 369 ; South Devon, 
372 ; Chester and Holyhead, 386 ; 
Trent Valley, 423. 

Rainhill, locomotive competition at, 

Rastrick, Mr., C.E., 247, 263, 306. 

Ravens worth, Earl of, 54, 97. 




Rennie, Messrs., C.E., 147, 205, 208, 


Road locomotion, — Cugnot's steam- 
carriage, 76 ; Evans and Syming- 
ton's, 78 ; Trevithick's, 79 ; George 
Stephenson on, 135. 

Robertson, Andrew, schoolmaster, 28, 


Robins, anecdote of George Stephen- 
son and the, 319. 

Robison, Dr., his idea of a Locomo- 
tive, 76. 

** Rocket," the, its construction, 253 ; 
arrangements of, 256 ; wins the 
prize of 500/., 263. 

Roscoe, Mr., his farm on Chat Moss, 
203, 209, 212. 

Ross, A. M., Engineer, 433. 

Royal Border Bridge, Berwick, 375. 

Rutter's School, Benton, 60, 65. 

Safety-lamp, Dr. Clanny*s, no; 
Stephenson's first lamp, 112; second 
lamp, 118; third lamp, 119; Sir 
H. Davy's paper, lio; his lamp, 
120; the safety- lamp controversy, 
121 ; the Davy and Stephenson 
testimonials, 124-26 ; comparative 
merits of the Davy and "Geordy " 
lami>s, 127-29. 

Sailing-waggons on tram-roads, 75. 

" Samson " Locomotive, 274. 

Sandars, Joseph, Liverpool, 176, 179, 

Sankey Viaduct, 223. 

** Sanspareil " Locomotive, Tim Hack- 
worth's, 258, 260, 262. 

Sea, the force of, 389, 390. 

Seguin, M., C.E., his tubular boiler, 

Self-acting incline, 73. 

Sibthorpe, Colonel, on Railways, 278, 


Simplon Road, Midland Railway com- 
pared with, 310. 

Snibston Colliery purchased by George 
Stephenson, 282. 

Sopwith, Mr., C.E., 1 14, 356. 357. 

Spanish Railway, George Stephenson's 
survey of, 358-60. 

Speed, railway, — on Middleton Rail- 


way, 86 ; Wylam, 95 ; Coxlodgc, 
96 ; Killingworth, loi, 187 ; Stock- 
ton and Darlington, 171 ; G. Ste- 
phenson before Committee of House 
of Commons on, 339. 
Speed of engines tried at Rainhill, 
258-63; of the "Northumbrian," 
269 ; George Stephenson's views on, 
Spur-gear, locomotive, 99. 
Staiths, coal, 12. 
Stationary-engine power, 141, 154, 

161, 244, 247. 
Statues of George Stephenson, 427, 428. 
Steam-blast, invention of, 102, 251-55. 
Steam-springs, G. Stephenson's, 134. 
Stephenson family, the, 15-20, 23, 
24, 47 ; "Old Bob," 16, 17, 46, 65. 
Stephenson, George, birth and parent- 
age, 15-19 ; employed as herd-boy, 
makes clay engines, 20 ; plough- 
boy, 21 ; drives the gin-horse, 21 ; 
assistant fireman, 23 ; fireman, 24 ; 
engineman — study of the steam- 
engine, 26; his schoolmasters, 28, 
48, 60 ; learns to brake an engine, 
30; duties as brakesman, 32 ; 
soles shoes, 33 ; saves his first 
guinea, 34 ; fights with a pitman, 
35 ; marries Fanny Henderson, 39 ; 
heaves ballast, 41 ; cleans clocks, 
42 ; death of his wife, 44 ; goes to 
Scotland, 45 ; returns home, 46 ; 
brakesman at West Moor, Killing- 
worth, 47 ; drawn for the militia, 
47 ; takes a brakeing contract, 48 ; 
cures pumping-engine, 52 ; engine- 
wright to the colliery, 54 ; even- 
ings with John Wigham, 57 ; 
education of his son, 59-64 ; cottage 
at West Moor, 68 ; the sun-dial, 71 ; 
erects winding and pumping engines, 
73 ; study of locomotive, 73 ; makes 
his first travelling-engine, 97 ; 
invents the steam-blast, 102 ; second 
locomotive, 103 ; fire in the main, per- 
sonal courage, 108 ; invents and tests 
his safety-lamps, 110-12, 121; the 
Stephenson testimonial, 126 ; further 
improvements in the Killingworth 
locomotive, 131 ; constructs the 




Hetton Railway, 140 ; surveys and 
constructs the Stockton and Dar- 
Hngton Railway, 153 ; his second 
wife, 155; starts a Locomotive 
Manufactory, 158; appointed engi- 
neer of the Liverpool and Man- 
chester line, li^; examined before 
Parliamentary Committee, 194 ; 
the Railway across Chat Moss, 
209-23 ; life at home, 229 ; the 
•* Rocket " constructed, 253 ; pub- 
lic opening of Liverpool and Man- 
chester line, 268 ; engineer of Grand 
Junction, 277 ; purdiases Snibston 
Colliery, and removes to Alton 
Grange, 282 ; appointed joint engi- 
neer of London and Birmingham 
Railway, 286 ; engineer of Man- 
chester and Leeds Railway, 307 ; 
of Midhmd Railway, 310 ; of York 
and North Midland Railway, 314 ; 
life at Alton Grange, 316 ; visit to 
Belgium and interviews with King 
Leopold, 322 ; opinions of railway 
speed, 332, 333, 339 ; takes lease of 
Claycross Colliery, 334 ; lime-works 
at Ambergate, 334 ; residence at 
Tapton House, 335 ; appearance at 
Mechanics' Institutes, 337 ; views as 
to atmospheric system of working, 
346 ; opposes the railway mania, 
349 ; again visits Belgium, 355 ; 
visit to Spain, 358 ; retires from 
the profession of engineering, 363 ; 
Newcastle and Berwick Railway, 
370; Chester and Holyhead Rail- 
way, 386; habits, conversation, 
&c., 412-23 ; theory of coal forma- 
tion, 423 ; meeting with Emerson, 
424 ; illness and death, 426 ; cha- 
racteristics, 445. 
Stephenson, Robert, — his birth, 42 ; 
death of his mother, 44 ; his father's 
care for his education, 59 ; his 
father's assistant, 59, 64 ; is put to 
Rutter's school, Benton, 60; sent 
to Bruce 's school, Newcastle, 62 ; 
evenings with his father, 64; his 
boyish tricks, 65 ; repeats Franklin's 
lightning experiment, 67 ; gives 
lessons to the pitmen's sons, 71 ; 


calculates the latitude for a sun- 
dial at Killingworth, 72 ; his re- 
collections of the trial of the first 
safety-lamp, 112; apprenticed to a 
coal-viewer, 142 ; sent to college 
at Edinburgh, 144 ; assists in survey 
of Stockton and Darlington Rail- 
^^y* '53 > assists in survey of 
Liverpool and Manchester Rail- 
way, 183 ; leaves England for 
Colombia, 232 ; residence at Mari- 
quita, 235 ; resigns his situation 
as mining engineer, 239 ; rencontre 
with Trevithick at Cartagena, 241 ; 
shipwreck, 242 ; return to New- 
castle, 243 ; pamphlet on the loco- 
motive engine, 248 ; discussions 
with his &ther as to the locomo- 
tive, 250 ; constructs the " Rocket," 
253 ; wins the prize, 263 ; im- 
provements in the locomotive, 
266; appointed engineer of Lei- 
cester and Swannington Railway, 
280 ; his first tunnel, 281 ; finds 
coal at Snibston, 281 ; appointed 
joint engineer of London and Bir- 
mingham Railway, 286 ; construc- 
tion of the works, 291 ; overcomes 
the difficulties of the Kilsby Tunnel, 
298 ; letter to Sir Robert Peel 
on ** undulating railways," 353 ; 
his extensive employment, 364, 365 ; 
the competitor of Brunei, 366; 
engineer of Newcastle and Berwick 
Railway, 369 ; engineer of Royal 
Border Bridge, Berwick, 374 ; engi- 
neer of High Level Bridge, New- 
castle, 376 ; engineer of Chester 
and Holyhead Railway, 386 ; con- 
structs the Britannia and Conway 
Tubular Bridges, 391 ; succeeds to 
his father's wealth, and arranges to 
retire from business, 430; designs 
tubular bridges for Canada and 
Egypt, 431 ; member of Parlia- 
ment, foreign honours, 441, 442 ; 
death, 443 ; character, 454. 

Stock Exchange and railway specu- 
lation, 348. 

Stockton and Darlington railway, — 
projected, promoted by Edward 
2 H 




Pease, 148 ; act passed, 149 ; re- 
surveyed by G. Stephenson, 153 ; 
opening of the Railway, 163 ; the 
coal traffic, 165 ; the first passenger 
coach, 166 ; coaching companies, 
167 ; increase of the traffic, 169 ; 
town of Middlesborough, 172. 

Strathmore, Earl of, 54, 126. 

Sun-dial at Killingworth, 71, 337. 

Swanwick, Frederick, C.E., 229, 231, 

Symington, Wm., steam-carriage, 78. 

Tapton House, Chesterfield, 335, 
411, 414-16. 

Tram-roads, early, 5 ; Croydon and 
Merstham, 177. 

Travelling by Railway, 192. 

Trevithick, Richard, C.E., his steam- 
carriage, 80; his tram-engine, and 
substitute for steam-blast, 82-84; 
rencontre with Robert Stephenson at 
Cartagena, 241. 

Trent Valley Railway, 423. 

Trellis girder bridges, 435. 

Tring Cutting, 292. 

Tubular boilers, 251-52. 

Tubular bridges, 401, 407, 433. 

Tunnels, railway, — Liverpool, 220 ; 
Primrose Hill, 294 ; Watford, 294 ; 
Kilsbv, 295 ; Littleborough, 307. 

Tyne, the, at Newcastle, 3, 12, 380. 

Viaducts,— Sankey, 223 ; Dutton, 
306 ; Berwick, 375 ; Newcastle, 
,. 376. 

Victoria Bridge, Montreal, 430-40. 
VignoUes, Mr., C.E., 205, 222, 246. 

Waggon-roads, early, 5-8, 18, 75. 

Walker, James, C.E., 190. 

Wallsend, Newcastle, i, 39. 

Waknsley, Sir Joshua, 358, 360, 362, 

Wandsworth and Croydon Tramway, 
82, 177. 

Watford Tunnel, 294. 

Watt, James, and the Locomotive, 

Wav-leaves for waggon-roads, 5. 

Wellington, Duke of, and Raolways, 
268-70, 330. 

West Moor, Killingworth, 44, 47, 107, 

Whitdiaven, early Railroad at, 6. 

Wigham, John, Stephenson's teacher, 

Willington Quay, 33, 37-^44- 

Wilton, Earl of, 207. 

Wood, Nicholas, prepares drawing of 
safety-lamp, 112; is present at its 
trial, 113 ; assists at experiments on 
fire-damp, 116; appears with Ste- 
phenson before Newcastle Institute, 
122 ; opinion of the " Geordy " 
lamp, 128 ; experiments with Ste- 
phenson on friction, 136 ; accident 
in pit, 142 ; visits Edward Pease 
with G. Stephenson, 150. 

Woolfs tubular boilers, 252. 

Wylam Colliery and village, 14-16. 

waggon-way, 88, 93. 

York and North Midland Railway, 

Young, Arthur, description of early 
waggon-roads, 5. 




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